Grapevine: Plane talk

Is Israel getting its own Air Force One? According to 'Calcalist,' the financial tabloid, the answer is yes.

Netanyahu at Birthright 13th Birthday (photo credit: GPO)
Netanyahu at Birthright 13th Birthday
(photo credit: GPO)
Is Israel getting its own Air Force One? According to Calcalist, the financial tabloid that is part of the Yediot Aharonot group, the answer is yes, and the plane, which will transport President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and their successors abroad, should become operational around May of this year. The acquisition of the plane has been on the agenda for some years now, and Calcalist reports that the Prime Minister’s Office has renewed its contact with Golden Number Solution, a consultation agency whose members are largely made up of former senior officers of the Israel Air Force.
The need for a plane to serve the president and the prime minister has been a pressing matter for more than two decades.
The last president to have a plane at his disposal was Chaim Herzog, for whom an El Al plane was repainted, but it was an old plane which was put out of commission after Herzog completed his tenure. In those days, many more journalists travelled abroad with the president and the PM than is presently the case because flights were much more affordable than flights on commercial carriers. Both Peres and Netanyahu take commercial flights abroad, and it is estimated that if a plane is purchased to put at the disposal of the president and the PM, it will, over a relatively short period, save the taxpayer some $12 million, taking into account the cost of fares for the entourages of the two.
■ BIRTHRIGHT HAS changed the Jewish future, Netanyahu told thousands attending the Taglit-Birthright Israel Mega Event at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Monday evening. The event coincided with Birthright’s celebration of its bar mitzva.
Netanyahu recalled how the organization started 13 years ago, during his first term as prime minister, with the “wild idea” of bringing young Jews from the Diaspora on short visits to Israel. The PM welcomed two of its visionaries, Michael and Judy Steinhardt.
“We’ve had, I believe, 330,000 young Jews from around the world come to Israel since then, and we’re getting another 44,000 this year, with you represented,” Netanyahu said. “But my goal is even more ambitious...
Our goal is that any young Jewish man or woman who wants to come to Israel will be able to come to Israel... I believe it’s important not only for us, but it’s also important for presenting our case to the world.”
■ THE LOUNGE at The Jerusalem Post was packed on Monday as staff came to hear Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who has already been dubbed “the surprise of these elections.”
Senior editor Lawrence Rifkin even brought his son, Guy – who will be a first-time voter and is enlisting in the IDF in March.
Bennett said that when he was growing up in Haifa, his parents, who made aliya from San Francisco, used to send him every morning to walk up to the street to get The Jerusalem Post.
“I see you perhaps as the key trumpet to the world outside Israel,” he said. “I’m convinced that forming a Palestinian state is suicide, and we’re going to have to change it. It might take 30 years, but let’s start.
We’ve got to start somewhere in reversing this terrible thing. You can agree with me or not. I feel like we are in a car running towards a cliff, and we have to reverse it.
When I wake up in the morning, that’s the sense that drives me.”
Bennett was accompanied by Jeremy Gimpel, who made aliya from Atlanta, Georgia and is No.14 on the Bayit Yehudi list. He has represented Bayit Yehudi in the Jerusalem Post/AACI Election 2013 debates.
■ UNICEF ISRAEL chairman Moriel Matalon, who is a partner in a prestigious law firm, was among the many people who last Thursday attended the 15th anniversary celebrations of New Family. Speaking from the stage of Habima Theater, Matalon commended New Family founder and fellow lawyer Irit Rosenblum, saying that he admired her both as a citizen of Israel and as a member of the legal fraternity. At the present time, said Matalon, burial societies will not inter couples who have not been married according to Jewish law. Every day, the newspapers contain stories about people who for one reason or another have been denied the right to live a happy private life because they do not conform to rules established 3,000 years ago. It’s not that Judaism has no creative solutions to difficult problems, he said, citing bigamy and agunot (women anchored in marriage because their husbands have disappeared) as examples of difficult problems for which solutions have been found.
Matalon questioned where Jewish enlightenment is today when almost every issue that causes human misery comes to court. Neither society nor the individual can progress when the nation is bound by religious restrictions, he said. Among the more sensitive causes taken up by Rosenblum, he cited, was that of a fallen soldier whose parents wanted to preserve the continuity of his line by inseminating a surrogate mother with his semen. The state would not allow it, but Rosenblum took the matter to court and won the case, and many soldiers going into battle now leave semen specimens behind to be used in the event that they are killed or injured to the extent that they can no longer sire children.
When she first started with New Family, said Rosenblum, no one understood what she was trying to achieve, and she was rebuffed time and again. “When you have a target, you mustn’t be diverted,” she said.
Looking out at the audience, which included a large representation of the LGBT community as well as other people who, for various reasons, had been unable to marry under Israeli law, Rosenblum declared: “I didn’t create a revolution. You did. I was merely the vehicle.” It had always bothered her, she said, that people who created nontraditional families were denied because of their sexual orientation or other religious barriers to have families of their own.
“Everyone should be able to create the kind of family they want, whether it’s a mixed marriage, a kohen marrying a divorcee or a same-sex marriage,” she said. “Before we came, these people were desolate and frustrated.”
There are some 800,00 couples in Israel who were not married in the traditional manner, she revealed, and she was happy to report that as a result of legal action that she had undertaken, several precedents were established to give full marital rights to couples who were previously denied them.
■ MANY COUPLES opt for a civil marriage ceremony simply because they are secular and want nothing to do with the rabbinate.
Not so long ago, most of these couples would have gone to Cyprus to get married, as have couples in which one of the partners is not Jewish or is genetically “half Jewish” but does not fulfill halachic requirements.
But in recent years, celebrities have begun to perform civil marriages. Yair Lapid used to do so before he entered politics, and may continue to do so after he becomes a legislator. Meanwhile, popular singer/guitarist Moshe Lahav has joined those celebs who perform civil marriages.
The added bonus in his case is that the couple will also receive a musical serenade. Presumably, Lapid will attempt to have civil marriages in Israel fully legalized.
■ APPROXIMATELY EVERY two years, there is a quasi-reunion among certain past and present writers for The Jerusalem Post who have added a feather to their respective caps by also writing fiction. The initiative for this belongs to Shelley Goldman, who wrote a gossip column for the weekly Metro supplement of the paper and later edited the supplement’s second incarnation, which was published under the City Lights banner. When Goldman embarked on a creative writing course at Bar-Ilan University, she became acutely aware of the fact that there were numerous talented fiction writers who were producing wonderful stories, novels and plays but had nowhere to publish them “because an Israeli postmark is a kiss of death in the publishing world.”
Amos Oz, Etgar Keret, Aharon Applefeld, David Grossman and a few other Israeli writers might disagree with that assessment, but then again they were already giants on the Israeli literary scene when overseas publishers began to take an interest in them. Goldman decided to give the English-language short story writers a platform and, together with Wendy and Jeffrey Geri, founded Anglo-Lit Press, recalling that a certain Jewish writer who chose to emigrate from Poland to America rather than to Israel, became a Nobel Prize Literature laureate.
The first anthology, Jane Doe Buys a Challah & Other Stories, included 33 stories. The second venture, Tel Aviv Short Stories, published to coincide with the centenary celebrations of the city that never sleeps, was somewhat larger and contained 52 stories by 37 writers. Then came Israel Short Stories with 70 stories by more than 50 authors.
The latest offering, Love in Israel contains 65 love stories – though not necessarily of a romantic nature.
Previous launches were at Tel Aviv University.
This time, Goldman had the launch at her home in Tel Aviv. Among the writers whose by-lines have appeared in The Jerusalem Post are Goldman, Joanna Yehiel, Judith Colp Rubin, Wendy Blumfield, Hannah Brown, Helen Schary Motro, Carol Novis, Michal Yudelman O’Dwyer and Carol Cook. Hundreds of submissions for the book which were read by a selection committee of approximately a dozen people.
Goldman was genuinely sorry that not all the submissions could be published, but acknowledged that, whether published or not, the response indicated that there is enormous, often untapped literary creativity in the English language in Israel. She also paid tribute to the late Dr. Shaindy Rudoff for pioneering creative writing in English in Israel and to members of Writersbloc, a Tel Aviv-based creative writing group, who give each other feedback and inspiration and some of whose writings are in the book.
An anthology of short stories is preferable to a novel in the times in which we live, Goldman explained, because few people have time to sit down and read a novel, and even if they find time, if the first few pages don’t grab them, they won’t read the book.As yet, Goldman doesn’t have a theme for the fifth book in the series, but it could very well have something to do with wine. Her husband, businessman Itzhak Wolf, at the previous launch, was still recovering from heart and kidney transplants which he had undergone in the United States. Goldman had imagined that after such a stressful experience, he would simply want to chill out. But no. He went off to the Negev to start a winery which, under the Midbar Wines label, has become quite successful in a very short span of time. He is convinced that the Negev has the potential for producing wines just as good as those of California’s Napa Valley.
Goldman attributes this optimism to the stubborn streak that characterizes Israel itself. Her husband has the same horoscope as the state, she explained, having arrived on the last illegal immigrant ship and entering the world only three hours prior to Ben-Gurion’s declaration of independence.
■ ON THE subject of transplants, the year started well for former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who is still convalescing after a liver transplant that he underwent three months ago in Belarus because, at age 67, he was unable to meet the criteria for liver transplants established by Israel and most other countries. Dagan returned to Israel to recuperate at Ichilov Hospital and was discharged on December 30. After he had been home for a couple of days, he was visited by Rabbi Elimelech Firer, who had instrumental in facilitating the transplant in Belarus. Dagan has lost a considerable amount of weight since the transplant, but seems to be recovering well and is optimistic about returning to an active lifestyle.
■ WHEN THE Israeli media carries daily news items about labor disputes and mistreatment of workers, it’s a pleasant surprise to find a company that truly values its workers and lets them know how much they are appreciated. A case in point is Z.Landau Construction Contractors and Engineering Ltd., whose president Zvi Landau, CEO Alon Natan and deputy CEO Shai Givati and Landau’s sons, Dudi (director of finances and human resources) and Zahi (director of construction and implementation), hosted 150 of the company’s employees to review the past year’s activities and to talk about the year ahead.
Twelve employees who have worked for the company for more than a decade received citations in recognition of their dedication to the job, and Battah Guad, who is in charge of on-site security, was presented with an Outstanding Employee citation. Givati told the employees that without them, the company could never have achieved its current level of success.
Company projects over 2012 were valued in excess of NIS 300 million and many more initiatives are expected in the year ahead. Landau, 85, who continues to take an active interest in the company, was particularly happy when his grandson, Omri, the son of Zahi, showed up at the festivities bearing a matriculation certificate which he had received only a few hours earlier.
■ WINTER WAS slow in coming this year, and while it was pleasant to keep enjoying the warmth of the sun at a fairly comfortable temperature, people who traditionally go north in winter to ski on Mount Hermon have been frustrated by the long wait. Ice skaters are more fortunate – at least for most of the month of January.
The Renanim Mall in Ra’anana this week opened a 110-sq.m. ice skating rink, which will remain in place until January 30. The ice is synthetic, so it’s not going to melt, but the skating experience will be the same as on the real thing. The only catch is that the skating rink is available just to children aged six and up. The price of an entry ticket is NIS 39. The installation is part of the new retail culture, says Renanim Mall CEO David Ben-Moshe, who explains that with increasing competition, mall owners have to invest more in value-added temptations that will attract people to the mall.
■ ELECTION CAMPAIGN notwithstanding, Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz makes time to spend with his family and recently went to dinner at the Italian restaurant in the Old Jaffa Railway Station with his wife, Irit, and daughter, Noa. But it wasn’t just a family affair. Noa wanted her Tel Aviv friends to meet her dad because, in her conversations with them, she discovered that they did not know much about him beyond the fact that he’d been a chief of staff and a defense minister. Because she was tired of explaining the difference between her father as a person and Shaul Mofaz as portrayed in the media, she decided to invite her friends to find out for themselves and to form impressions based on personal contact rather than what they read and heard about him. Mofaz talked to them about the need to serve in the IDF, national security concerns and issues related to the economy and social welfare. In the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant, it turned out to be a somewhat different kind of parlor meeting, but if nothing else it illustrated the importance of family togetherness.
■ IT'S A known fact that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is a millionaire who has donated quite a lot of his own money to educational projects. His wife, Beverly, does not need to work unless she wants to. On a recent tour of the YVEL jewelry manufacturing plant in Motza on the cusp of the highway leading to Jerusalem, Barkat was impressed by what he saw and told proprietors Orna and Itzik Levy that Beverly is a trained artist who also studied to be a silversmith.
Itzik Levy pointed to an empty chair and said, “If she wants a job, she’s got one.” The Levys are among those industrialists who believe in Maimonides’s dictum of social welfare, which is that the best form of charity is to give someone the opportunity to earn a living. Thus, many of their workers come from the Ethiopian immigrant community. The Levys provided training for them and then employed those who showed the best aptitude for the job.
■ IN HIS many travels around the country, President Shimon Peres encounters extraordinary goodwill, which he often speaks about at events that he is hosting. Last week, when hosting Akim, Peres said that although Israelis are not particularly noted for being law-abiding and, in fact prefer, to break the rules whenever possible, they are on the other hand the most generous of volunteers and seldom refuse to do a good deed. He has found this trait among all strata and age groups of Israeli society. There is an extraordinary characteristic of giving both of oneself and of financial resources.
Not only that, but many companies encourage their employees to give to the communities in which the companies’ branches are located or to pick a specific cause and to pursue it throughout the country, as did United Airlines.
You can’t give a bear hug to every sick child, but you can give them each a teddy bear. And that’s what United employees are doing. They are going from one children’s hospital to another to distribute the bears and have joined a project called The Adventurous Bear. Last week they distributed 72 bears at the Dana Douek Children’s Hospital in Tel Aviv. Avi Friedman, who heads United Airlines operation in Israel, said the company was delighted to be joining forces with an American cancer research group that initiated The Adventurous Bear project to boost the morale of hospitalized children.
Every year for several years, United has purchased a huge quantity of toys from Gund, America’s leading manufacturer of soft toys, and has distributed more than 35,000 such toys to children across America.
It is now happy to be doing something similar in Israel.
■ IT WAS like old home week when Knesset Central Elections Committee chairman Elyakim Rubinstein and CEC spokesman Giora Pordes met at the President’s Residence this week for the launch of the Facebook video clip that aims to encourage young people to vote in the elections for the 19th Knesset. Pordes was the military aide-de-camp to president Chaim Herzog.
When he retired from the IDF he became the spokesman for the Knesset, a position that he held for 14 years.
Rubinstein said that when he looks at Peres, it seems to him that the president gets younger all the time. Rubinstein recalled that Peres had attended Rubinstein’s wedding 36 years ago and is no less energetic today than he was then..
■ WINNERS OF The Mifal Hapayis 2012 Landau Prize for Scientific Research in the exact sciences, social sciences and humanities are Prof. Eli Zeldov of the Weizmann Institute for his research into superconductivity; Prof. Omer Moav of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for his work in micro economics; Prof. Ruth Amos of Tel Aviv University for her literary research and critiques; and Prof. Shmuel Einav of Tel Aviv University for cardio-vascular biomedical engineering. The prizes range from NIS 50,000 to NIS 100,000. This is the 11th year in which the prize will be awarded.