Grapevine: St. Paddy’s Day comes early – but with a bonus

Ireland’s Minister for Justice, Equality and Defense, Alan Shatter, pays an official visit to Israel.

Chabad Center in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood 370 (photo credit: courtesy)
Chabad Center in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood 370
(photo credit: courtesy)
St. Patrick’s Day, which is traditionally celebrated on March 17, has been brought forward to March 14 by Irish Ambassador Breifne O'Reilly and his wife, Eaven Doyle. The reason: An official visit to Israel by Ireland’s Minister for Justice, Equality and Defense, Alan Shatter.
Contrary to general practice, there are no speeches at the Irish National Day events, but this may prove to be an exception to the rule.
Shatter’s visit will excite particular attention in Israel because he is the only Jewish member of the Dail Eireann, which is the principal chamber of the Irish Parliament, and Ireland happens to be much better disposed to the Palestinians than it is to Israel. The most distinguished Irish-born Jew at St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in years gone by was the late Chaim Herzog, who was Israel’s sixth president, and whose father, Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, was chief rabbi of Ireland and a great friend of Eamon de Valera, a major player in Ireland’s struggle for independence from England, who subsequently became Ireland’s third president. Following Chaim Herzog's death in 1997, the most distinguished Irishman in the room was a member of the famed Briscoe family, which had a very long political history.
■ MEANWHILE, THE Baha’i International Community, which sent out invitations last week for its Na-Ruz (new year) reception at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem on March 20, received messages from invitees expressing concern about potential problems in reaching the hotel due to security and traffic arrangements related to the visit of US President Barack Obama, who is due to arrive at the King David Hotel on the same street on the same day. During previous visits by US presidents the, entire street and several adjacent streets were was off-limits to the general public.
But the Baha’i International Community is not rushing to change its plans. An email to invitees this week read: “According to the information available to us, the security plan for the Obama visit has not yet been finalized, and as noted in the press, there even seems to be some uncertainty as to whether the visit will take place as currently scheduled. We will continue to follow developments closely and will send all our invited guests a further update when the picture becomes clear. In the meantime, we hope that those of you who would like to join us on this occasion will keep the event in your calendar.”
■ IF PRIME Minister Binyamin Netanyahu succeeds in forming a coalition government within the next day or two, he and his ministers will have to mark time until they can all go to the President’s Residence to pose for the traditional inaugural photo. President Shimon Peres left yesterday for a week-long visit to Brussels, Paris and Strasburg, and the photo session will not place until after his return.
■ DESPITE CONFLICTING media reports, it seems reasonably certain that Netanyahu will succeed in forming a government, given that Government Press Office director Nitzan Chen on Monday published a notice to journalists informing them of the need to register if they wanted to attend the welcoming ceremony for President Obama at Ben-Gurion International Airport. The notice specifically stated: “The ceremony will be held Wednesday morning, 20 March 2013; the exact time will be announced separately.
The security checks at the entrance will require early arrival at the airport. US President Obama will make brief remarks and continue on to his meeting with President Shimon Peres.”
■ THE NIGHT before he left for Brussels, Peres met with former US secretary of defense Lawrence Korb and with Esther Pollard, the wife of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, after the two had met earlier in the day with Netanyahu. Esther Pollard had been angling for some time for these meetings, and it is doubtful whether she would have succeeded in getting them were it not for the fact that she was with Korb, who yesterday spoke to the Jerusalem Press Club about recent developments in the Pollard case, specifically regarding the efforts of senior American officials to secure Pollard’s release before Obama’s visit to Israel.
Both Peres and Netanyahu promised to raise the issue of releasing Jonathan Pollard on humanitarian grounds when each of them meets with Obama.
■ REPRESENTATIVES OF Israel’s Foreign Ministry who last Thursday attended the evening of Enchanting Thai Culture that was presented by the Royal Thai Embassy under the auspices of Ambassador Jukr Boon Long were thrilled that this was one of the rare occasions on which they could attend a diplomatic event in Jerusalem instead of traveling to Herzliya Pituah, Kfar Shmaryahu, Ramat Gan or Tel Aviv.
The city’s Gerard Behar Theater was packed to capacity, and the audience was so enamored with the elaborately dressed, exquisite and exotic performers that after the performance they waylaid the singers and dancers the in the auditorium and the lobby to pose for photographs.
The show, comprising a series of classical Thai dances accompanied by traditional musical instruments, is directed by Dr. Anucha Thirakanont and was in Israel as part of a world tour that included performances in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as a prelude to the 60th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic ties between Thailand and Israel. Formal diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in March 1954. The ambassador noted that during the 10 months in which he has been in Israel, he has heard only good things about Thailand from the many Israelis who have been there. They can reel off the names of many of Thailand's beautiful destinations; they can talk about the best places to go shopping, to watch kickboxing or to enjoy a traditional Thai massage. But when the ambassador asked them about classic Thai culture, they didn't know what he was talking about. Now, many of them do and are likely to learn more over the course of the coming year..
■ IN ISRAEL this past week to undertake a careful shopping mission was New Yorker Fern Penn, who is getting ready to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Rosebud, her Israeli concept store in Manhattan’s SoHo district.
Penn, who had a solid fashion background working in various capacities in high end-stores, used to buy Israeli fashion for herself whenever she and her husband, Leslie, came to Israel.
When she wore her Israeli creations in New York, everyone wanted to know where she had bought them bought her dress. So she decided to open an Israeli store in the Big Apple. It was a big risk, and an even bigger risk when the economic crisis overtook America, but somehow Rosebud managed to stay afloat and developed a particular clientele in the 35-plus age group that go for the styles of Israeli designers such as Sasson Kedem and Ronen Chen.
Five years ago, in honor of Israel’s 60th birthday, she collected some vintage Israeli garments and showcased them in her window display. Her customers loved them, so she also keeps a small vintage collection on hand for women who would rather have the nostalgia of yesterday than strive to be as modern as tomorrow. Penn also stocks accessories and Israeli gift items, and on Lag Ba’omer plans to have an all-day 10th anniversary party. During her current visit to Israel, she’s not just looking for merchandise but also for investors. She figures that if Rosebud was able to hold its own during an economic slump, there will be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when the economy improves. She would like to expand to other parts of New York and to other states. She doesn’t make a big deal about the origin of her stock.
Many of her customers barely realize that whatever it was that caught their eye is a product of Israel. They’re buying it because they like it. When a woman falls in love with a garment, her politics are put on the back burner and boycott is not a word in her lexicon. Penn likes it that way, but regrets how difficult it is becoming to find vintage items in what used to be the Jaffa flea market but has become too gentrified for flea market prices.
■ QUITE A lot of publicity has been given to the upcoming opening of Teddy Park, named for legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, but less has been written about the Teddy Kollek Museum, which will be located in the nearby Artists’ Colony. Both projects were created at the initiative of the Jerusalem Foundation, which was established by Kollek and headed for decades by Ruth Cheshin until she stepped down last year, making way for retired British-born diplomat Mark Sofer to take over the role of president.
By coincidence, Sofer’s home is just a hop, skip and a jump from both Teddy Park and the Teddy Museum. The park is scheduled to open sometime in May, close to the 102nd anniversary of Kollek’s birth.
The museum which is integral to the park, is being built at a cost of $1.5 million, most of which has been contributed by New York attorney Kenneth Bialkin, who is on the boards of some of America's most prestigious companies and who has been the brains behind some extraordinary big business deals. A former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a president or chairman of several important Jewish organizations, Bialkin served for close to 30 years as vice chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation.
He knew Kollek well and was pleased to be in a position to help make the public aware of what Kollek did for Jerusalem.
Among the highlights of the museum will be a pictorial history of the development of Jerusalem during the 28 years of Kollek’s tenure as mayor.
While it is common knowledge that Kollek was the founder of the Israel Museum, simply because museum director James Snyder mentions it so frequently, many of Kollek’s other outstanding achievements have faded from memory. The museum will serve as a permanent reminder.
■ IT’S NICE to be able to take on a project that is related in some respects to one’s family. Erez Navon, son of Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, is one of the contractors working on the redevelopment of the old Jerusalem train station and helping to turn it into a tourist attraction like the old Jaffa train station has become, with art galleries, fashion and gift stores, restaurants, coffee shops and a farmer’s market.
Navon is the great-grand-nephew of Joseph Navon, who received permission from the Ottoman authorities to create the infrastructure for a railway line. Navon was also one of the entrepreneurs who laid the foundations for the Mahaneh Yehuda market. The Old Jerusalem Railway Station, which has been shuttered for years, is due to reopen in its new guise in April, a fitting 92nd birthday gift for Yitzhak Navon, who was born on April 9.
■ CHABAD’S ABILITY for outreach is known in some of the most far-flung places in the world. The best example is the annual Chabad Passover Seder in Kathmandu, which attracts more than 1,000 backpackers, mainly Israelis, many of whom have had minimal contact with Jewish tradition in the past but come away from the Seder with a greater degree of commitment to Jewish values. For some, it is the beginning of a path toward religious observance.
There’s nothing else for Jews to do in Kathmandu, so one can understand that the Chabad Seder there has continued to be a magnetic source since 1988.
But when Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg opened a Chabad Center in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood a little under two years ago, he had to compete with other Chabad congregations as well as various haredi, modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform congregations. There are more than 20 other options within a 10-minute walk of his Chabad Center.
It didn’t seem possible that he would succeed, but he has. In a remarkably short period, his congregation of mainly young families and singles has reached overflow proportions, so much so that for Purim he organized megilla readings in several Rehavia coffee shops and restaurants in addition to the synagogue, and all were well-attended. He has activities every day of the week and now he’s busy planning a communal Seder at Heichal Shlomo, next door to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue. Unlike the weekly Shabbat kiddush, which is free, there is a NIS 250 charge for adults and NIS 175 per child for the Seder, though Goldberg says that no one will be turned away for lack of funds. His is one of hundreds of Chabad Seders being conducted around the world.
The Jerusalem Great Synagogue and many other congregations are also accepting reservations for community Seders. The Great Synagogue has for many years hosted a community Seder, primarily for those who might otherwise be alone or for those who, for whatever reason, may not be able to conduct their own Seder. There is no charge, although donations to help defray the costs are gratefully accepted. Advance registration is required and space is limited to 100 people.
■ ALREADY QUITE a celebrity in the United States, Khaled Abu Toameh, The Jerusalem Post’s Gaza and West Bank correspondent, will be honored by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America at its annual dinner on Sunday, April 21. Abu Toameh, who will be the keynote speaker at the event, is being honored “for his singular courage and brilliance in reporting the truth about Israel and the wider Middle East.” The invitation goes on to state that Abu Toameh’s reporting broke the story of the financial corruption and internal power struggles of the Palestinian Authority and exposed the Western media’s double standard.
Abu Toameh, who has been covering the Middle East for more than 30 years, is a staunch defender of free speech. The invitation quotes him as saying: “I’m not pro-Israel; I’m not pro-Palestinian; and I’m not pro- American, but as a journalist I’m pro the facts and pro the truth.” In addition to his work for the Post, Abu Toameh is also a contributor to the Gatestone Institute and a producer and consultant with NBC News. In the past, his byline has also appeared in US News and World Report, The Wall street Journal, The Sunday Times, The Daily Express and other leading publications. He is also a documentary film-maker and a popular speaker on the international lecture circuit. The dinner will be held at Pier Sixty, Chelsea Piers, New York City.
■ ISRAEL AND South Korea established diplomatic relations in 1962 and, strictly speaking, the jubilee anniversary of mutual recognition is now history, but Korean Ambassador Kim Il Soo continues to use every opportunity to celebrate. He did so again at the commencement of a Bar- Ilan University International Workshop on Religions in Korea, where he referred to the “special and unique” relationship between Israel and his country and applauded the religious ties between the two nations. “We are the second-largest country in Asia that sends pilgrimages to Israel,” he said.
“I’ve been posted here for a year-and-a- half and have had the chance to learn more about the history here. Israel is very popular among Koreans. As ambassador, I’d like to see the relations grow even closer between our two countries.”
BIU deputy president Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats lauded the tremendous technological, electronic, automotive, educational, cultural and other strides made by the Koreans over the past 20 years. She noted that as part of the educational cooperation between the two countries, dozens of Korean students arrive each year to undertake Bible, archaeology, nanotechnology and education studies at Bar-Ilan and other universities around the country.
Zilbershats took special note of Bar- Ilan’s Asian Studies Program, established five years ago with the generous support of Dr. Naim Dangoor.
“We opened this important program because we thought the time had come to reach out to the East and teach our students about Asia,” she said.
“As educators, we believe that it is our duty not only to lecture our students but to open before them the gates of friendship and mutual exchange,” said Dr. Danielle Gurevitch, associate dean of humanities, who initiated the Asian Studies Program and has served as its director since its inception. The program’s curriculum focuses on the study of China, Japan, India, Korea and Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia) and includes language courses in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Rated in a student satisfaction survey among the 10 most popular study tracks at Bar- Ilan, the program also offers a multidisciplinary study track in Asian studies for law students, the only one of its kind in Israel.
ShinAe Kim, a Korean PhD student in BIU’s Zalman Shamir Department of Bible, expressed appreciation to Karl Gutzlaff (1803- 1851), a Jewish mercenary who was the first person to introduce the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament in Korea. She also acknowledged Alexander Albert Pieters (1871-1958), who translated the Hebrew Bible into Korean.
■ ISRAELI NEWS groups and organizations seem to be taking over from Zionist roof bodies in forging relations with the Jewish Diaspora. Websites have been an important vehicle in this regard, but so has greater focus on Diaspora news and views. For the last few years, The Jerusalem Post has published an Israel Independence Day list of the 50 most influential Jews in the world. Ma’ariv is now trying to top that and plans to publish a supplement in May that will profile the 100 most influential Jews in the world.
The project is the initiative of its new British-born publisher, Shlomo Ben-Zvi, who wants to create greater awareness among Israelis of the wider Jewish world. The supplement will be edited by Shmuel Rosner, an experienced commentator on the Diaspora, who has written for numerous Israeli and American publications and whose blog, Rosner’s Domain, was featured on The Jerusalem Post website from 2008 to 2011. The supplement, to be published in both English and Hebrew, will include in-depth features on major Jewish organizations and individuals and will rank them according to influence and importance in the Jewish world. The list will be compiled in collaboration with the Jerusalem-based think tank the Jewish People Policy Institute. It will be interesting to see if Ben-Zvi also follows The Jerusalem Post‘s initiative with regard to an annual Israel-America conference in New York on Zionist issues.
■ GLOBES,’ THE financial daily, reports that politicians who were unable to retain their Knesset seats in January’s election are queuing up in the hopes of getting one of the most sought-after jobs in the public sector – vice chairman of the Rothschild Caesarea Foundation.
The successful appointee will be entrusted to manage operations for chairman Baron Benjamin de Rothschild and his wife, Ariane de Rothschild, vice president of the Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Corporation, which manages the family business and various charities around the world. The Rothschild Caesarea Foundation has financed countless projects throughout Israel, primarily in the fields of education and culture.
Standing in line for the cushy responsibility of foundation vice chairman, according to Globes, are former Kadima MKs Dalia Itzik, Ronnie Bar-On and Yaakov Edri as well as outgoing Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Shalom Simhon, who 16 months ago lost his battle to replace Efi Stenzler as world chairman of the Jewish National Fund.
In addition to philanthropy, the foundation and the corporation conduct extensive business operations in Israel which enjoy tax exempt status.
Considering what several generations and branches of Rothschilds have done for Israel individually and collectively, this seems reasonably fair, but former state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss did not think so and published a scathing report that demonstrated the negative disproportion of philanthropy to the increase in financial resources, even though the philanthropy came to double-digit millions.
However the increase in resources was more than triple-digit millions, for which no taxes were paid. In his May 2012 report, Lindesntrauss recommended that the Rothschild Caesarea Foundation and the government review their agreement with the aim of amending what he regards as a grave lacuna. This brings to mind the old joke about the Rothschilds and the beggar who said that if he was Rothschild, he would be richer than Rothschild. When asked how this was possible, his reply was: “I'd do a little begging on the side.”