Grapevine: Sergei’s Courtyard may be Russia’s soon

Vilna Ghetto posters are featured at Beit Hatefutsot, Migdal Ohr marks its 40th anniversary and the Poles throw a Christmas party for Gaza kids.

christmas bethlehem 248.88 ap  (photo credit: AP)
christmas bethlehem 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
WHEN HE arrives in mid-January as part of a tour of the Middle East, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will be accompanied by one of the largest delegations to come with a head of state.
While the visit is designed to enhance bilateral relations on a number of levels, for some here it will be a painful experience: The final act of transfer of ownership of Sergei’s Courtyard, in the building that once served the Agriculture Ministry, may be made while Medvedev is in Jerusalem.
The issue of the transfer was raised when then president Vladimir Putin visited in April 2005. He toured Sergei’s Courtyard with prime minister Ariel Sharon, who was very familiar with the building, having served for three years as agriculture minister in Menachem Begin’s first government. Sharon promised Putin that he would try to accelerate the process whereby the building, which until recently housed the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, would become the property of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The promise was eventually honored in October 2008 by prime minister Ehud Olmert and ratified by the cabinet. The actual written transfer was made in February 2009, but as yet, despite visits by several high-ranking Russians, there has been no formal ceremony to mark the physical handover of the property, which has also been used for concerts.
■ THE POSTERS on the walls at Beit Hatefutsot have the yellowy-beige background resembling parchment. Most are printed in Yiddish, some in Hebrew, and they advertise concerts, lectures and theater performances that took place in 1943. They were salvaged from the liquidated Vilna Ghetto in 1944, after the city was liberated from the Nazis and a group of partisans and former ghetto prisoners returned and found them. They belong to the Vilna Gaon State Museum and comprise an exhibition of Jewish Spiritual Resistance in the face of death.
Most of the participants on both sides of the stage in the events advertised were murdered by the Nazis. Even parents whose children had been murdered, said ghetto survivor Michael Shemyavitch, who heads the association of former residents of Vilna, went on stage and performed to prove that the Nazis could not break the human spirit of the Jews. Of some 70,000 Jews in the ghetto, he said, only 22,000 survived.
Beit Hatefutsot CEO Avinoam Armoni, speaking of the raison d’etre of the museum, as Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubiliusvisited this week, quoted poet Abba Kovner, one of its founders and a leader of the Jewish partisans in Vilna, who had said: “Remember the past; live in the present; and trust in the future.”
The slogan seemed apt for the occasion, especially because Kubilius – on his first visit – had come to strengthen ties, to remember the past in acknowledging the “shameful” role that some Lithuanians had played in collaborating with the Nazis and to express the hope that the spirit of Vilna might be revived. The loss of so many Lithuanian Jews was painful, he said, but the exhibition spelled out a powerful message of what could be learned from history, that even in the face of death one must go on with life. It was a great pity he said, “that we lost the Jerusalem of Lithuania. We cannot bring back the dead but we can look to the future in the belief that we can rebuild the spirit of the Jerusalem of Lithuania.”
■ HANGAR 11 in the Tel Aviv port is not exactly the place where one would expect to see haredi rabbis. But sixth-generation Jerusalemite and Israel Prize-laureate Rabbi Yitzhok Dovid Grossman, founder of the Migdal Ohr youth village which is home to some 6,500 youngsters at risk, is not your regular haredi rabbi. Some people call him the disco rabbi because over the years he has frequently been seen at nightclubs. No, he’s not a rebel on a wayward path; he’s trying to save those who are already there, especially if they are minors who, in the right environment, can be taught to become law abiding, productive citizens. This week, Migdal Ohr celebrated its 40th anniversary, and considering some of the places where Grossman has found his flock, Hangar 11 was an entirely appropriate venue.
Grossman is a frequent visitor at Beit Hanassi, so it was only natural for President Shimon Peres to show up at the 40th anniversary festivities. Grossman has developed special relationships with heads of the business community as well as with politicians. He’s had to to get support for his institution. One of his leading admirers and supporters is Nochi Dankner, chairman of the IDB Group, who was honored for demonstrating concern for youth at risk.
Another admirer is former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief and current chairman of the Board of Directors of Bank Mizrahi Tefahot Jacob Perry. Among the politicians who came to celebrate with Grossman were Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni and Shas leader Eli Yishai. Master of ceremonies was Avi Kushnir, who managed to hold the attention of the 600 guests. Among the faces in the crowd were those of Liora Ofer, Eliezer Fishman, Sharona and Shmuel Schnitzer, Irena Shalmor and Amos Shapira on the business side and on the political side Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman.
A euphoric Grossman, whose family came to join in his celebration, declared: “Tonight we are all as one. It is already planned that at the end of days when redemption comes, there will be no religious, no secular, no Ashkenazi, no Mizrahi. We will all be as one.” Guests were charmed by 56 Migdal Ohr youngsters who sang together with a professional choir, and who proved that, with a little TLC, there’s hope for almost everyone.
■ THE JEWISH state is the cradle of three faiths, and at this time of the year the Christian community, excluding the Eastern churches which celebrate two weeks later, is celebrating Christmas – in some instances with the help of or together with Jewish friends and colleagues. For instance, many Christian dignitaries and Christian journalists stationed here received Christmas trees from the Jewish National Fund. The Tourism Ministry, in conjunction with the Jerusalem Municipality and the Italian Embassy, will tonight sponsor the 10th annual concert for life and peace in Jerusalem, which is traditionally held during Christmas week. A similar concert took place on Tuesday night in Bethlehem, with the participation of singer Mira Awad, a Christian Arab whose voice has been heard in other peace forums.
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Italian Ambassador Luigi Mattiolo are expected to attend tonight’s concert, along with several visiting Italian dignitaries and heads of Christian churches in the Holy Land.
Created and produced by Rino Maenza, the concert will feature the Giovanile Italiana Orchestra , conducted by Nicola Paszkowski, with Awad as guest soloist. Filmed by RA13, the concert will be seen by viewers in 50 countries on Christmas Day.
■ AN ITALIAN musical group, the Elkom Ensemble, will appear at the three-day Christmas Festival, beginning tomorrow at the Greek Catholic School in Beit Sahour. Coordinator George S. Rishmawi of the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies has managed to get an impressive number of sponsors, including the east Jerusalem YMCA and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The somewhat unusual festival, a musical smorgasbord in terms of genre and international participation, will become more traditional late on Friday night and will feature 90 minutes of Christmas carols with the Shepherds Band.
In the late afternoon of Christmas Day there will be a candlelight procession at the Greek Orthodox Shepherds’ Field, where participants will light a candle for the creation of a Palestinian state, after which there will be a performance by a popular Palestinian dance troupe. The festival will culminate with a Spanish musical group featuring singer Cristina de Valle. Visitors will not go hungry. The Shepherds’ Market Food Court will function throughout the three days.
■ IN THE spirit of Christmas and goodwill to all men, Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska brought 13 children aged 4-16 from Gaza, with three mothers to supervise them, to her residence in Kfar Shmaryahu, where she hosted a Christmas party in the spirit of the old country. The three mothers are all Polish women who married Palestinians who had been studying in Poland, and all the children are the products of Polish- Palestinian marriages. Although the women have all converted to Islam, some still practice their Catholic traditions.
The event was one of quiet diplomacy. The Poles have frequently claimed to be Israel’s best friends in Europe. By getting permission to bring Palestinians from Gaza, they are also showing them that Israelis are not the ogres portrayed in Palestinian propaganda. The Christmas celebration – replete with decorated tree, Christmas carols, Polish food including real pirogi, Christmas gifts and a Santa to distribute them in the person of Polish Consul Michal Kowalik – proved to be a wonderful experience for the youngsters and the three accompanying mothers, as well as for Bogoslaw Ochodek, the Polish representative in Ramallah, who attended with his wife.
The youngsters played ball, had a great time with the ambassador’s dog, interacted with embassy staff and recited Polish poems. However the best part of the festivities was on the way back to Gaza, when they stopped at a mall to purchase Christmas gifts to take home – including toys, candy, dried mushrooms for Christmas soup, warm clothing and perfumes.
This was not the first Christmas party hosted by Magdziak-Miszewska for Gazan children of Polish mothers. Last year she was unable to get permission for them to enter Israel, but is hopeful that she will be able to organize a two-day visit during International Children’s Day in 2011. Embassy staff who accompanied the visitors said that they came without hatred in their hearts and were like any other tourist who comes to a new place, eagerly looking at everything and everyone and snapping photographs.
By the way the ambassador is very ecumenical. Just over two weeks back, she also hosted a Hanukka party.
■ IT’S DIFFICULT to imagine this country without shopping malls. But if Canadian- Israeli shopping mall entrepreneur and developer David Azrieli had not introduced malls here, building bigger and better ones with each new venture, it is doubtful whether all the others that have sprouted throughout the country would exist. Azrieli set the example, the standard and the tone, as a result of which many of the companies operating chain stores were also able to expand, because with the opening of each new mall, companies felt the need to open yet another store, and in most instances were able to boost overall sales and revenues.
Azrieli, 88, spends summers in Canada and winters here and is constantly engaged in new business and philanthropic projects. He has been conferred with many honors both in Canada and here, and tomorrow will receive yet another, in recognition of his unique contribution to the country’s economy. The honor will be bestowed on him at the 90th anniversary luncheon of the Tel Aviv Chamber of Commerce, which will simultaneously celebrate its 49th general meeting. The chamber came into being just a little over a decade after Tel Aviv itself and in its nine decades has grown way beyond the dreams of its founding fathers.
The anniversary event at the Dan Panorama Hotel will be attended by Uriel Lynn, president of the Tel Aviv chamber and of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Silvan Shalom and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben- Eliezer.
■ IN THE revolving door of the job market, people tend to forget former colleagues, often because they don’t stay around long enough to remember. But at Telfed (the South African Zionist Federation Israel), the opposite is true, as will be witnessed tomorrow night at the Ra’anana Bowling Club, where former staff members gather for a reunion. Some 70 people are expected, and among the more senior of them are people who worked at Telfed as far back as the 1950s.
Present-day staff will also be there as will representatives of the Telfed leadership. Credit for the reunion goes to Telfed director Sidney Shapiro.
■ INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN Ami Rosenfeld, who graduated from the Technion’s engineering faculty in 1965, has not forgotten his alma mater. He and his wife Tamar, believing that education is one of the best investments, have donated NIS 1 million in scholarships to students studying industrial engineering and management, with the stipulation that the scholarships be awarded in recognition of industrial innovation. That should spur some creative students to get to tomorrow ahead of time.
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