Grapevine: P-Day in Washington

Everyone connected with efforts geared toward Justice for Jonathan Pollard is waiting with bated breath to see whether Peres will be successful in his endeavor.

Jonathan Pollard 311 (R) (photo credit: Courtesy of Justice for Jonathan Pollard)
Jonathan Pollard 311 (R)
(photo credit: Courtesy of Justice for Jonathan Pollard)
It’s P-Day in Washington. P stands for Peres; P stands for Pollard; and P stands for the promise that Shimon Peres made to Esther Pollard to do everything is his power to persuade US President Barack Obama to grant convicted spy Jonathan Pollard his freedom on the same day that Obama confers the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Peres.
Today is that day, and everyone connected with efforts geared toward Justice for Jonathan Pollard is waiting with bated breath to see whether Peres will be successful in this endeavor.
Will he succeed where others have failed? Will Obama have the courage and compassion that was lacking in his predecessors? High-ranking veterans of Israel’s defense establishment say that no previous American administration has been as generous to Israel as that of Obama. The Iron Dome is but one example of that generosity – possibly because one of the places that Obama visited in Israel when he was campaigning the first time around was Sderot. He saw the stockpile of rockets that had been fired into Israel and imagined the damage they could have done to human life had they found their targets.
Pollard is a different issue, but perhaps Obama will find it in his heart to say enough is enough and it’s time for Pollard to go free.
Among the invitees to the dinner that Obama is hosting for Peres in the State Dining Room are former US Presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W.
Bush, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was himself a recipient of the Medal of Freedom, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, Israel’s fifth president Yitzhak Navon, Ben- Gurion University president Rivka Carmi, singer and actress Barbra Streisand, filmmaker Stephen Spielberg and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
■ PERES, KISSINGER and Navon will meet again next week in Jerusalem, and not just because they will all be attending the presidential “Facing Tomorrow” conference, which opens on June 19. They’ll be getting together before that for another awards ceremony in which Peres will be doing the conferring. While Israel does not have the equivalent of a medal of freedom, it does have the President’s Award of Distinction, which was inaugurated by Peres last year and which will be awarded for the first time next week to Kissinger; Canadian human rights activist Judy Feld Carr, who was instrumental 30 years ago in getting young Jews out of Syria; social activist Ori Slonim, the Rashi Foundation, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and conductor Zubin Mehta.
Slonim, a lawyer, has for 27 years voluntarily been at the disposal of governments of Israel in negotiations to free Israeli soldiers taken prisoner by enemy forces and by terrorist groups. A descendant of the famous Slonim family of Hebron, he is also president of Variety Israel and a past president of Variety International. The Rashi Foundation, established in 1984 by Gustave Leven, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in underprivileged sectors of Israeli society by reducing educational gaps, providing cultural facilities and initiating programs that encourage leadership and excellence.
Steinsaltz is a teacher, philosopher, social critic, and spiritual mentor who has devoted his life to making the Talmud accessible to all Jews.
Mehta, one of the world’s greatest orchestral and operatic conductors, has worked with many of the world’s major orchestras, but is particularly associated with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra ,which was formed in the year he was born and which he conducted for the first time in May 1961.
He has been the orchestra’s musical director, a lifetime appointment, since 1981. Prior to the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and India 20 years ago, Bombay-born Mehta was India’s unofficial representative in Israel.
The reason that Navon will be at the awards ceremony, aside from the fact that he attends many of the events hosted by Peres, with whom he has had a close friendship for more than 60 years, is that he was a member of the committee headed by former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar, which reviewed the nominations and selected the honorees.
■ MEMBERS OF the Board of Governors of the Hebrew University who arrived in advance of the board’s 75th meeting, which has been taking place in Jerusalem this week, went to Massada last Thursday to enjoy the Israel Opera company’s performance of Carmen and to participate in a gala dinner with President Peres and Israel Opera Director Hanna Munitz.
Peres had also been scheduled to attend the official opening on Sunday of the Jordan River Village, which is chaired by beloved actor Chaim Topol and is based on the Hole in the Wall Gang, founded by actor Paul Newman in 1988 and now known as SeriousFun Children’s Network. The Jordan River Village is part of that international network. It was founded in 2000 by Marilyn and Murray Grant, who shared their dream of a utopian environment for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Located high above the Sea of Galilee, it is a place of enrichment and empowerment for children from all over the region regardless of religion, race or nationality. The village will enable children to spend a week free of charge in an environment filled with a multitude of experiences which will help them to cope better while having loads of fun as they simultaneously test their stamina and their abilities through specially designed extreme sports that also cater to children in wheelchairs. Peres had hoped to attend the inauguration ceremony, which was top-heavy with philanthropists, entertainers and social activists, but was unable to juggle it with his commitments in America. It’s fairly certain that he will make a point of visiting the village before the summer is over.
■ “A THING of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” Thus wrote British poet John Keats some two centuries ago, and he might well have been writing about “Pure Gold,” the breathtaking exhibition that marks the 20th anniversary of the Bible Lands Museum. Approximately 600 visitors crowded into the museum for the opening last Wednesday. At first glance, it’s like walking into a jewelry store, where each piece – some of which are 2,500 years old – stands majestically isolated in its own splendor.
Exquisite gold adornments and artifacts, whose design has stood the test of time, look as modern as they did when created centuries ago. Invitees who came the following evening to the museum’s gala 20th anniversary dinner were considerably fewer in number, and were thus able to take their time viewing the marvelous display before exiting from the exhibition hall to the garden for a candle-lit dinner.
Among the guests were Yitzhak Navon, who has been a faithful friend of the museum since its inception; Amos Mar Haim, who served as senior deputy mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek from 1989 to 1994 and who is a member of the museum’s governing board; Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat , MK Isaac Herzog, sculptress Debra Silver, whose late parents Nathan and Lilly Silver were among the early and constant supporters of the museum and whose names continue to be linked with it in perpetuity through the Nathan and Lilly Silver Foundation; iconic photographer David Rubinger; former National Labor Court president Steve Adler; art gallery proprietor Raphael Marrache; and Sir John Boardman of Oxford University, who edited the well-researched catalogue and provided the exhibition’s scholarly input.
Batya Borowski, who together with her late husband Elie Borowski, brought the museum from a dream to an expanding reality, was proud of the fact that it would remain a legacy bequeathed by her husband to Jerusalem, but she was equally proud of the fact that what she and her husband had started was being continued by her daughters Amanda Weiss, who is the director of the museum, and Jessica Waller, who is responsible for the design of the exhibition. The third generation, in the person of Aaron Novak (Weiss’s son), is also involved with the museum as its general manager. Master of ceremonies, television and radio broadcaster Yigal Ravid offered his services gratis, which was commendable, but which did not excuse his brash queue-jumping to the buffet.
■ RESERVISTS IN the IDF do not always get the recognition they deserve, which is why the ones who received promotions in rank last week were thrilled that both Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu attended the ceremony. Among the reserve officers promoted was genial PR man Amiram Fleisher who serves in the IDF Spokesman’s Office. It’s rare for a soldier to get an army job in his own field, but Fleisher’s work in the IDF is virtually tailor-made for him. PR people have often been there, done that and seen it all. But they are not immune to emotion, and the pinning ceremony for Fleisher, in which his wife, Ifat, and Gantz pinned the colonel’s insignia onto his uniform to denote his new rank, was a moment of pure elation, especially because his father and his children as well as senior army officers were present. Afterwards, Netanyahu told Fleisher he was pleased that the IDF demonstrates its appreciation to loyal officers who continue to serve the state year after year.
■ HUNGARIAN HOLOCAUST survivors who owe their lives to Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg would have been delighted to be invited to the Swedish National Day reception hosted by Ambassador Elinor Hammarskjöld in her recently renovated Herzliya Pituah residence. Hammarskjöld made particular mention of the fact that this year is the centenary year of Wallenberg’s birth. There are Raoul Wallenberg societies in many parts of the world which pay tribute to this man who not only risked his life but may well have lost his life as a result of his humanitarian efforts to save Jews. Arrested by the Russians toward the end of the war on suspicions of espionage, Wallenberg disappeared and no one knows exactly what happened to him. The Wallenberg centenary will be commemorated with a number of events around the world.
For Sweden, 2012 has a particular focus, said Hammarskjöld as she spoke of Wallenberg. “We remember what this young Swedish diplomat, who has been recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, did to save thousands of Jews in Hungary from the scourge of the Holocaust.
“Here in Israel and around the world, this is a year of events to honor Wallenberg and those who worked with him.Not only to remember, but also to learn and reflect on what Wallenberg’s legacy means for the future.
It is an occasion to reaffirm our commitment to fight anti-Semitism and other intolerance today.”
Among the commemorative events in Israel will be an academic symposium at Yad Vashem on June 26, where Sweden will be represented by Minister for Integration Erik Ullenhag.
In July, the speaker of the Swedish riksdag will be in Israel at the invitation of the speaker of the Knesset to participate in the Knesset’s own ceremony for Wallenberg. From the end of August, the embassy will be hosting an international exhibition on Wallenberg at Beit Bialik in Tel Aviv.
Commemorating Wallenberg is not only about ceremonies – it is about people, said Hammarskjöld. “It is about Raoul Wallenberg as an individual – the courageous choices he made at the young age of 32. It is about those who survived the Holocaust because of what Wallenberg and his team did. It is also about their thousands and thousands of descendants, like the young Israeli student who approached me to say that she felt a special tie to Sweden because her savta was saved by Wallenberg so many years ago. And it is about the choices we all face which require courage, determination and the ability to challenge ourselves beyond what we may think is possible.”
Minister for Energy and Water Resources Uzi Landau, who represented the government, referred to Wallenberg as “the Righteous Gentile who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Hungary” and noted that many of the Hungarian Jews who had been saved by Wallenberg had found their way to Israel.
Among the guests attending the reception were members of Israel’s vibrant Swedish community, diplomats, people who do business with Sweden and Israel’s ambassador designate to Sweden, Isaac Bachmann.
■ IT IS not always easy for the Protocol Department of the Foreign Ministry to find a minister who is willing to represent the government at a national day reception hosted by the head of a foreign diplomatic mission.
While there is supposed to be a roster, certain ministers find all sorts of excuses for evasion when it is their turn.
Not so Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, who actually volunteered to represent the government at the national day reception hosted at his residence by Portugal’s Ambassador to Israel Miguel de Almeida e Soussa, who only last month presented his credentials to President Peres.
It was Mofaz’s maiden appearance as a representative of the government at such an event since Kadima joined the coalition. To make the minister’s task easier, the Foreign Ministry prepares a speech that is largely based on the bilateral relations between Israel and the country whose national day is being celebrated. When he was a government minister, MK Isaac Herzog, who prefers to be spontaneous, eschewed the prepared text and spoke in direct reference to anything the ambassador had said before him, or if he had visited the country in question, of his experiences there. Apparently this is something that he and Mofaz have in common. Ignoring the document handed to him by Shmuel Morgan from the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department, Mofaz, seizing on remarks that Soussa had made about Portugal’s willingness to assist Israel in its peace endeavors, waxed – with far greater passion than he displays when speaking Hebrew – into an enthusiastic assertion (in surprisingly good English) of Israel’s desire for peace and his personal belief that the Palestinians are partners for peace.
Expressing his confidence that Soussa will enhance the existing good bilateral relations between Israel and Portugal, “in all fields” Mofaz noted that Portugal has peacekeeping soldiers stationed on the Israeli-Lebanese border. “We in Israel believe in, hope for and pray for peace,” he said. “The most important issue to work for is peace.”
Earlier, Soussa had assured Mofaz and the other guests that no Portuguese citizen is indifferent to what is happening in this part of the globe.
Commenting that no leadership or country in the region is immune to the changes taking place and the permanently moving scenarios, Soussa said that Israel can count on Portugal’s solidarity and support in the quest for peace.
■ HONORS ARE in the air for singer, actor, radio and television host and current affairs commentator Yehoram Gaon, who, after receiving an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University, was this week officially recognized as the Honorary Consul of Honduras at a ceremony at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem. This is not the first time that Gaon has been the central figure in such a ceremony. He was previously the Honorary Consul for Chile.
■ ALREADY FOLLOWING in the footsteps of internationally esteemed Israeli statesman Abba Eban in his capacity of Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Ron Prosor is emulating Eban yet again in his latest capacity as vice president of the UN General Assembly. Prosor is only the third Israeli to hold this position. An extraordinarily popular diplomat in London before he went to New York, Prosor was elected unanimously. He will take up his new role in September, with the opening of the next assembly. Prosor saw his election not only as a personal victory but also as another achievement for Israel at the UN and an expression of appreciation by the international community of Israel’s contribution.
“We are working hard to put Israel on the map of the United Nations as a leading and influential country,” he said, adding that the selection of an Israeli candidate for this senior position could serve as the basis for advancing additional Israeli candidates for other key positions at the UN.
■ ALMOST EVERYONE who gets married wants their wedding to be something special and memorable, but the marital drama put on by Robbi Glodan and Isolda Abraham will be a hard act to follow. Each of them has thespian aspirations, and with this in mind they decided to write and put on a play about their courtship, with the wedding as a grand finale. According to a report in Yediot Aharonot, the couple wanted to do something really different. They also wanted to be honest and to include the crises in their relationship as well as the upbeat chapters.
Everything went according to plan but for one snag: It was really tough finding a venue. They approached the managers of theater halls and community centers all over the country, but no one was prepared to rent out their premises for a wedding, even if the first part was legitimate drama. Eventually they struck gold at the Nesher Cultural Center, which has a beautiful theater. The play was a 90-minute drama that included their first meeting, their life together as couple and finally the culmination of their relationship with a wedding. The wedding invitation was designed like a playbill.
■ A SOMEWHAT more ostentatious wedding ceremony performed by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and his predecessor, Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, took place at the Beit Yaacov Synagogue in Sao Paulo, Brazil last Wednesday when Tammy Kattan became Mrs. David Safra. The groom is the son of Joseph and Vicky Safra who are from one of the most prominent Sephardi families in the world and are also among the richest families in the world. Joseph Safra is the second-richest man in Brazil and ranks 52nd on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people. His younger brother, Moise Safra, is Brazil’s eight-richest person. Some 1,500 guests filled a specially built jungle-like structure adjacent to the Jockey Club and dined from a kosher gourmet buffet. Among the entertainers at the event were Shakira and Israel’s own Yishai Lapidot, the lead singer from Oif Simchas.
■ SEEKING TO confuse the paparazzi who were not among the invited guests, supermodel Esti Ginzberg and property developer Adi Keizman sent out wedding invitations that listed the venue as a villa in Zichron Yaacov.
Only on the night before the wedding did guests receive notice of the correct address, which was in the courtyard of the home of fashion photographer Ron Kedmi, who lives in the Ein Hod Artists’ Village. It was Ginzberg’s first wedding and Keizman’s third. At the time that he and Ginzberg started keeping company around two years ago, he was still married to Ofra Strauss, who chairs the Straus Group.
Strauss was previously married for 18 years to Dan Lahat, son of former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat. Her name has since been romantically linked with that of Middle East envoy Tony Blair, with whom she enjoys a close friendship. Both Strauss and Blair have denied that their relationship is more than platonic, but neither the Hebrew nor the British media have accepted the denials. Keisman, who is more than a decade younger than Strauss, is 16 years older than his 22 year old bride.
■ SLIGHTLY MORE veteran supermodel Bar Refaeli celebrated her 27th birthday with a big bash at her parents’ home in Hod Hasharon.
Rumored several times to be getting married to Hollywood actor Leonardo diCaprio before they finally broke off their long and much-publicized onagain off-again romance, Refaeli, as far as is generally known, does not have a Mr. Right in her lifeat the moment.
■ TAKING A break from their busy tour schedule, Los Angeles comedians Avi Liberman, Kivi Rogers and Ron Pearson who were in Israel for the biannual fund-raising comedy tour for the Koby Mandel Foundation, strayed somewhat from the regular tourist trail to go rappelling near the Old City as part of’s Extreme Adventures.
■ THE STORY changes from time to when Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Dan Schechtman explains how a professor of materials science at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology and Iowa State University became a jeweler in his spare time. In a previous version it was because he had so much time to spare at night while his wife was studying for her doctorate when both were in the US. The more recent version is that he’s a frustrated car mechanic. Hundreds of people came to see an exhibition of his jewelry pieces, which went on view at the Technion this week in tandem with the meeting of the Technion’s Board of Governors.
[email protected]