Grapevine: Out of Africa

In May, the first ever Nigerian delegation of high-profile business people attended Agritech.

RABBI CHANANYA CHOLLAK 370 (photo credit: Ilan Spira)
(photo credit: Ilan Spira)
It’s not only refugees and infiltrators from African countries who are showing increasing interest in Israel, but also business people and heads of state and government.
In May, the first ever Nigerian delegation of high-profile business people attended Agritech. Last month, Ivory Coast President Alassane Dramane Ouatttara paid a state visit to Israel. Next week, Sierra Leone President Ernest Bau Koroma is coming to Israel on a state visit and the same week, Ghana’s King of the Ashanti tribe, Otumfuo Osei Tutu, will pay a private visit to Israel and will undoubtedly meet with various dignitaries.
Because Sierra Leone’s ambassador to Israel, Andrew Gbebay Bangali, is nor a resident here, many of the arrangements for Koroma’s visit were undertaken by Sierra Leone’s honorary consul and local regional radio tycoon, David Ben Bassat, who, together with his wife, Mira, will host a reception in honor of Koroma and his wife, Sia Nyama. Koroma is coming to Israel to strengthen bilateral relations. He is his country’s first head of state to visit Israel and hopes to enhance cooperation in the fields of industry, infrastructure, energy, health and tourism, which are all well developed in Israel.
Early this year, Ben Bassat made good on a promise that he had given to Sierra Leone’s first lady when he met her in 2011. At that time she had told him that her country was sorely lacking in advanced medical equipment and was in dire need of dialysis machines. On his return to Israel, Ben Bassat enlisted government and private aid and was able to deliver four dialysis machines to Sierra Leone in February of this year. In September, 2009, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman went on a reconciliation mission to Africa, taking a delegation of 20 business people engaged in industries that focus on energy, agriculture, shipping, water, infrastructure, chemicals, and media.
He visited Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda. The visit, the first by an Israeli foreign minister in 20 years, was an unqualified success, with the result that several African states are seeking to improve their relations with Israel.
■ WHAT DO ambassadors talk about at state dinners? Any number of subjects – not necessarily relating to the guest of honor or to political developments in the region. Other than those ambassadors who had already gone abroad for their summer vacations, representatives of all 27 members states of the European Union attended the dinner hosted by President Shimon Peres for President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, who was in Israel for the first time in his present capacity but who had visited previously.
In the table talk, at least at the table at which this columnist was the only non-diplomat, there was surprise, given the high ratio of Jewish intellectuals in the world, that Israel does not have the giant bookstores that exist in other countries. That’s quite an indictment for the People of the Book With all due respect to the two presidents, the best part of the dinner was not the speeches but the entertainment provided by Rita, who was truly at her best, demonstrating not only her vocal range and musical diversity but her sensitivity to what she was singing. Her rendition of “Jerusalem of Gold” should have been recorded, because it was arguably one of the most emotionstirring interpretations of what has become the anthem of the capital.
Naomi Shemer who wrote it, would have been thrilled to hear it sung this way.
Rita, who recently put out a disc in her native Persian, said that she has received countless emails from Iranians who have heard the disc. Their messages tell her how much they love her music and how much they would love to come to Israel to hear her in person. “Maybe that day will come,” Rita said wistfully, “and maybe the day will come when I can go there to sing.” Rita left Iran with her parents when she was eight years old.
■ AT THE working meeting that Peres held with Barroso prior to the dinner, Barroso spoke of the importance of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians as soon as possible, which will also help to improve Israel’s relations with the world, he added. But he acknowledged that a peace agreement with the Palestinians will not solve all the problems. He said that Europe is making special efforts to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear threat.
Peres stressed the importance of Europe getting rid of the Iranian menace, preferably by peaceful means – exerting greater political and economic pressures. Both at the working meeting and later at the dinner, Barroso emphasized Europe’s commitment to Israel’s security. Barroso said that peace is a precondition for security and human dignity.
“Instead of talking about preconditions for peace, it should be the other way around,” he said.
Peres suggested that the time had come fore the EU to invite the Middle East to join its ranks.
His face aglow, Portuguese Ambassador Miguel de Almeida e Soussa was surrounded by colleagues as if he was the father of the bride – or in this case of the groom – because Barroso is both a former prime minister and foreign minister of Portugal.
On Tuesday, Barosso received an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa to add to some 20 other honorary doctorates he has received from universities around the world.
■ THE NATIONAL Armed Forces Day of the Kingdom of the Netherlands proved to be a double celebration this year in that Defense Attaché Lt- Colonel Ruud Niens assumed the position of dean of the Association of Military Attaches, taking over from Austria’s military attaché, Lt-Colonel Nikolaus Egger on completion of the latter’s tour of duty.
Niens was unanimously elected by all the members of the AMAI. The Armed Forces Day reception was hosted by Netherlands Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp at his residence in Herzliya Pituah. Niens began his military career in 1982 when he was drafted by the Royal Marines and went professional in the Air Force in 1984. He held many positions at airbases, at the Air Force’s headquarters and in the Ministry of Defense.
Niens is a specialist in strategy and policy and considers the position of defense attaché and dean of the AMAI both a personal and professional honor, not to mention a career highlight. AMAI members represent 36 nations and have strong working relationships with the IDF, the military industry, non-profit organizations and academia. AMAI, by its very nature, becomes a home away from home for all military attachés and their families through social and cultural events in addition to military networking.
■ ALTHOUGH HE was in Tel Aviv to join in the Israel Hotel Association’s tribute to Tel Aviv restaurateurs and chefs who have contributed so much to the city’s reputation as a tourist destination, Minister of Tourism Stas Meseznikov said that he prefers to work in Jerusalem, “because there, I don’t have to feel the dissonance between the suit I am wearing and the beachfront outside.” In fact, Meseznikov was one of the very few people wearing a suit. Almost everyone else including, IHA President Ami Federmann and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, was wearing an open-necked sports shirt.
In praising the chefs, Federmann said that when he was general manager of the Dan chain in the 1980s, no-one wanted to be a chef. It was an undesirable profession, and any hotel or restaurant that wanted to improve its menu sent its young kitchen staff to Germany, Switzerland or Austria to do a basic course in cooking. The executive chef in one of the Dan hotels proposed that the company open a cooking school and, although management went along with the idea, no one really believed that it would do much good.
In the interim, Israeli cuisine has undergone a revolution. Chefs have become television celebrities, and the idea of becoming a chef is now quite popular. As a result, the Dan chain has entered into a partnership with the ORT schools to produce even better chefs than the city has already.
Huldai was justifiably proud of all the accolades that Tel Aviv has received from international tourist publications and associations, but in quoting Eli Ziv, director-general of the Tel Aviv Hotel Association, “It’s only when the product is good that it gets recognition.”
Gesturing toward the window of the Dan Hotel, he invited everyone present to look at the beach promenade with all its facilities as an example of a good product.
Meseznikov said that although Tel Aviv is one of the best brands in the Israel tourist industry, hotel accommodations are still too expensive and ways must be found to offer a more affordable tourist package so as to attract more visitors to Israel.
■ AMERICAN-BORN Israeli weightlifter David Berger was among the 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Munich in 1972. The Munich massacre has hovered in the Israeli consciousness partially because it almost defies belief that 11 athletes could be killed in cold blood at the world’s greatest sporting event, but even more so because of the attitude of the International Olympic Committee, which has consistently refused to open the games with a minute’s silence in their memory. One wonders if this attitude would prevail if the athletes had come from any other country in the Middle East. Former Israeli fencing champion Dan Alon was a member of the Israeli team who for many years after the massacre carried its psychological scars. He tried hard to put the traumatic episode out of his mind, but was unable to do so, even though he rarely spoke of it.
After the release of Steven Spielberg’s epic 2005 film, Munich, which brought the horrendous story back into sharp focus, Alon was suddenly in frequent demand as a speaker or interviewee – but it was not easy for him. Eventually, he decided to write a book about the Munich massacre, which, as the London Olympics approach, becomes an increasingly hot subject.
Alon will be the guest speaker on Tuesday, July 17 at the Jerusalem headquarters of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel at a fundraiser for the memorial forest that commemorates the 300 American and Canadian immigrants who fell in battle in the IDF or who were victims of terrorism. The event will also mark the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre and will feature, in addition to Alon, a new documentary, The Eleventh Day: The Survivors of Munich ’72.
■ AMERICAN VOLUNTEERS at the archaeological digs at Susita in the Galilee, which is located near Kibbutz Ein Gev, took time out from their excavations on July 4 to celebrate American Independence Day, raising the flag and singing the national anthem. They will remain at the dig until July 26, after which they will return to the US.
■ THE RENOWNED Ifergen family has produced a number of prominent rabbis , among them Rabbi Nethanel Shriki, who, like his uncle Rabbi Yaakov Ifergen (otherwise known as “Harentgen,” the Hebrew word for “X-ray”), is unusually gifted in his ability to recognize what bothers people and to steer them in the right direction. Many people regard them as mystics. Just as Ifergen has an annual tribute to his late father, Rabbi Shalom Ifergen, who was Shriki’s grandfather, Shriki also organizes his own tribute, and just like Ifergen, has a vast following including celebrities, business tycoons and ordinary people. At the tribute organized by Shriki, there was an auction to support the various social welfare institutions that he operates. Among the items put up for sale was Shriki’s blood-stained prayer shawl, that contained spurts of blood from more than 500 baby boys whom Shriki has circumcised while wearing it. The buyer was former Ma’ariv publisher Ofer Nimrodi, with a bid of NIS 52,000 .
Incidentally, current Ma’ariv publisher, Nochi Dankner, is a frequent guest at the Ifergen’s table.
■ JUST BEFORE setting out to the Farnborough Airshow, Elbit Systems president & CEO Joseph Ackerman made time to host the Birthright Israel Excel “Dream Team” group and its program manager, Vered Fishbein, and tell them about Elbit’s global presence in the defense market and the company’s specialty in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). During its visit to Israel, the Birthright group met with Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Google Israel CEO Meir Brand and IDC Herzliya president Prof. Uriel Reichman. The group also had the rare privilege of visiting Elbit’s “petting corner” – with a close-up inspection of the company’s Hermes 900 UAV.
■ SOME OF the people whose stories were captured for posterity by author Barbara Barnett in her book, The Hide-and-Seek Children: Recollections of Jewish Survivors from Slovakia, will be at Yad Vashem on Friday morning, July 13. The book, which has been officially catalogued by Yad Vashem, tells the stories of 40 child survivors who were allowed to spend a year at Clonyn Castle in Ireland after the WWII. The idea was to provide them with the means to be nourished and rehabilitated after the traumas they had experienced. Suddenly they were able to be real children again and to play hide-and-seek in the castle. The project was organized by the charismatic Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld and supported by the Dublin Jewish community.
The book will be launched on Friday at Yad Vashem’s International School of Holocaust Studies with the participation of Barnett, Irish teachers enrolled in the Holocaust Studies Seminar, Irish Ambassador Breifne O’Reilly, Holocaust Educational Trust Ireland director Lynn Jackson, ISHS director Yiftach Meir and members and friends of the Israel Ireland Friendship League.
■ FOR YEARS, Hungarian-born fashion designer Finny Leitersdorf reigned as queen of Israel’s fashion industry and was rivaled only by Lola Be’er.
Both women are long dead, and might be forgotten if not for Shenkar College and Leitersdorf’s granddaughter, Andrea (Dushi) Leitersdorf, who keeps her memory alive more than quarter of a century after her death. Finny Leitersdorf’s creations were timeless and are as relevant today as they were 30. 40 and 50 years ago. Last year, her granddaughter showcased some of her creations at Villa Dallal in Neveh Zedek, and drew considerable attention.
This year the Leitersdorf family joined forces to immortalize the great designer by establishing a NIS 50,000 prize in her name at Shenkar.
The initiative was Dushi’s and the award ceremony was held at the Villa Dallal, where Dushi runs an upscale restaurant. She was very proud, she said, to give the first award in her grandmother’s name to a young and very promising designer. The Leitersdorf family, she continued, was interested in advancing the careers of talented young designers and was happy to contribute to their leaving their signatures on both Israeli and international fashion. The first winner of the Finny Leitersdorf prize was Daphna Pelesoff, who specializes in creating beautiful things out of recycled materials.
■ POPULAR SINGER David Broza was among the many celebrities who came to the home of Mika and Kobi Lapidot in Caesarea for a fundraiser for UNICEF. Broza, who is a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF Israel, was presented with a medal and a citation by UNICEF Israel chairman Moriel Matalon, who had nominated him for the role.
■ EZER MIZION, which helps save lives through its bone marrow bank that was founded by Dr. Bracha Zisser after her husband, well-known businessman Moti Zisser, recovered from cancer, held a benefit night at Hangar 11 on the port of Tel Aviv to raise funds for a central bone marrow bank to facilitate greater efficiency in processing samples from potential bone marrow donors, particularly as such donors are now increasing in number. Guests of honor at the event were Bracha Zisser and Ezer Mizion founder Rabbi Chananya Chollak.
Among the other guests were prominent members of Israel’s business community, including former El Al Board of directors chairman Prof.
Izzy Borowitz; Checkpoint CEO Gil Schwed; Israel Diamond Manufacturers Association president Moti Gantz; Negev Ceramics CEO Avi Mutula; Bar Ilan University president Moshe Kaveh; MK Ronit Tirosh and stage and screen celebrities Yael Bar Zohar and her husband Guy Zuaretz. The menu included gefilte fish and kubbe, symbolizing the fact that no one, regardless of ethnic background, is immune to illness and that a bone marrow donation, though usually a better match between relatives or people from the same ethnic background, is not exclusively so – and people from vastly different backgrounds may be the donors and recipients in a lifesaving endeavor.
When the bone marrow bank was first established in 1998 and put out a call for donors, 11,233 people responded. Today the number of donors stands at 600,000, with a total of 1,000 transplants.
■ ONCE IN a while, Yair Lapid, who heads the newly registered Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, takes time out from politics to do other things, especially if they’re close to his heart and he’s been involved with them for years. Thus, Lapid was among the well-known personalities who attend the annual Youth Renewal Fund conference in Ramle at which businessman Dov Lautman, a long-time supporter of various educational projects, was given a lifetime achievement award by YRF director Galit Toledano Harris.
YRF exists to give youth in peripheral areas of the country an opportunity to realize their scholastic potential. Lapid has been associated with YRF for the past decade.
Among the other well-known personalities at the conference were Yael Arad, who brought home Israel’s first Olympic medal 20 years ago, Ramle Mayor Yoel Lavi and veteran Kiryat Yam Mayor Shmuel Sisso, who, prior to entering local politics, served as Israel’s consul general in New York.
■ WILL AMERICAN Jewish filmmaker Woody Allen make a film in and about Israel? If actress, producer, model and singer Noa Tishby has her way, he most certainly will.
Tishby has persuaded the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles to launch a project to persuade Woody Allen, who as far as anyone knows has never been to Israel, to make up for the lacuna and to make a film here.
The idea came to her when reading interviews that Allen gave to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the LA Weekly in which he said that he has made films in England, Spain, France and Italy, because he was invited to. In other words, governments or film foundations in those countries became his angels and coughed up the cash required to make the movie. All they wanted in return was that the plot be set in their respective countries.
Via its Jewcer website, the Jewish Journal went along with Tishby and even features a videotape of her making a persuasive argument – but apparently it wasn’t persuasive enough. In a bid to get readers to contribute funds toward the $18 million that it would cost to produce the film, the website has succeeded in getting only a few hundred dollars in seed money. Actually, the website is aiming for only $9 million which it hopes to have matched once the sum is reached, and then to give it to Woody Allen to make the desired film, thereby helping to change Israel’s image in the world.
Even though America Jews are not exactly enthusiastic about the project, not all is lost. The Jerusalem Development Authority has a special fund for feature films and television series about Jerusalem. Admittedly, getting the JDA to fork out $18 million in one fell swoop for a production will not be an easy task, but it’s something worth thinking about in terms of a special opener for next year’s International Jerusalem Film Festival. The question is, even if the money is forthcoming, will Woody Allen have a hang-up about coming to Israel? What stopped him him from coming so far?