Grapevine: Tall order for Azrieli’s 90th birthday

Real estate developer Azrieli laid the cornerstone for what will be Israel’s tallest office tower.

Azrieli 370 (photo credit: Sivan Farag)
Azrieli 370
(photo credit: Sivan Farag)
■ Real estate developer David Azrieli, who can rightfully claim to be the pioneer of Israel’s shopping malls, this week celebrated his 90th birthday by laying the cornerstone for what will be Israel’s tallest tower – at least for the foreseeable future. The tower, which will take four years to complete, will have 50 stories and, no doubt, Azrieli will be on site for frequent progress inspections as he was for all his other construction projects in Israel. Before getting down to work, Azrieli partied last Thursday with some 1,000-plus relatives, friends, employees and business acquaintances at the Tel Aviv fair grounds.
Azrieli escaped from his native Poland during the Second World War and came to Palestine. He studied architecture at the Haifa Technion but did not complete his degree. After fighting in the War of Independence, he left Israel in the early 1950s to seek his fortune in Canada. There he married, raised a family of four children and indeed made his fortune. An extremely generous philanthropist, he has both initiated and supported numerous educational projects in Canada and Israel.
A man of his affluence doesn’t really need birthday gifts, and the invitation requested that any invitee who wanted to give him a gift should direct it to the Azrieli Institute for Educational Empowerment. Azrieli is an optimistic man who started most of his projects during difficult economic periods and completed them when the economy was peaking. He believes that the current economic situation will soon be reversed and that by the time his new flagship project is ready for occupancy, the economy will flourish.
At the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, Gen. (Res) Menachem Einan, who is Azrieli’s long-time point man in Israel, thanked him for the opportunity to work with him over the past 20 years and said that he looked forward to all the projects they would continue to work on together. Justice Minister Ya’akov Neeman commended Azrieli as a man who gets things done and does not permit bureaucracy to prevent him from doing what he has set out to do. Azrieli proved that he not only gets things done, but does so on his feet. At age 90 – well not quite; his birthday is in May – Azrieli didn’t appear to be at all tired as he spent a good part of the evening standing to receive congratulatory handshakes and embraces.
"People say that 90 is old,” he said, “but I don’t feel old and I hope that I can continue to be active for many more years.”
Among the guests were David Brodet, Galia Maor, Morris Kahn, Uzia Galil, Shabtai Shavit, Yaacov Perry, Efraim Halevy, Dan Gillerman, Dov Tadmor, Roni Milo, Shlomo Lahat, Pini Cohen and Isaac Herzog. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent a congratulatory message in which he credited Azrieli with being one of the builders of Israel’s future.
■ BRIEFLY HOME in Israel last week, Ron Prosor, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, warned that if the international community wants to do something to stop Iran’s nuclear program “they should act fast.”
Prosor was in Jerusalem at the invitation of the KKL-JNF and spoke at the closing session of the organization’s World Marketing Conference, which was attended by more than 100 KKLJNF employees including KKLJNF world chairman Efi Stenzler, co-chairman Eli Aflalo, vice chairs Igal Greenwald and Menachem Leibowitz and KKLJNF presidents, emissaries and employees from 27 countries.
Stenzler and Aflalo presented Prosor with a silver cone from the Carmel Forest. In addition to what he had to say about the region, Prosor stated that “KKL-JNF has helped build this great nation of Israel tree after tree. While Israel was only a dream, you, the KKLJNF, were planting the seeds.”
The organization not only plants forests but also helps to build communities. In this, context Stenzler pledged that over the next few years KKL-JNF plans to assist in bringing 100,000 new residents to the Negev and the Galilee and to help upgrade the infrastructure so that these regions will be attractive not only to Israelis but also to potential new immigrants.
■ MEMBERS OF the Bahai International Community had more than their traditional Naw-Raz or New Year festival to celebrate last week. They were also celebrating the renewal of their five-year agreement with the State of Israel whereby the BIC is exempted from indirect taxes. Justice Ministry Director-General Dr. Guy Rotkoff said at the celebrations in Jerusalem that he had never enjoyed dealing with anyone as much as he had enjoyed dealing with Dr. Albert Lincoln, the BIC’s secretary-general. It was a one-time experience, said Rotkoff, who does not expect to continue his position past this term.. He had wanted to raise a toast to Lincoln with a cup of coffee following the completion of the agreement, but the Bahais, who do not drink alcohol, were at the tail-end of a long period of fasting so Lincoln could not join him even for a cup of coffee, but promised him that they would both have plenty to eat at the Naw-Raz festivities the following evening. Although the Bahai faith originated in Iran, it was not tolerated there. Followers are persecuted as they are in most other Islamic countries.
The remains of the founder of Bahai were brought to Mount Carmel in Haifa in 1909, 59 years after his execution in Iran. An impressive shrine, known as the Shrine of the Bab, was built around his grave and the magnificent Bahai Gardens are also a tribute to his memory.
Another Bahai leader known as Baha’ullah escaped execution but was exiled from the place of his birth. Together with his followers he came to Acre in 1868 and settled there, spending the rest of his life in writing scriptures. His home is another of the Bahai holy sites.
Lincoln found it just as pleasant to work with Rotkoff as Rotkoff found it to work with him. Lincoln also noted the presence of Noaz Bar-Nir, the director- general of the Ministry of Tourism, who he said had been very helpful to him over the years. Lincoln sent greetings to the Bahai community of Iran and prayed for their protection as well as for all the people of Iran. He also spoke about plans for future Bahai projects and expressed regret over the continued desecration of Bahai Holy places, which could be avoided if another road was built for that garbage trucks that currently travel on an illegal road.
Bahai essentially stands for peace and harmony, which they illustrate each year by a musical item. This year, singers and musicians from seven different countries got together to sing a Hebrew song “Yahad,” meaning “together,” which they sang in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
■ A REPORT in Ha’aretz this week says that Russian presidentelect Vladimir Putin intends to visit Israel in June, a month of his inauguration. Putin was previously in Israel in April 2005, arriving on a state visit during the Passover holiday. The state dinner hosted for him by then-president Moshe Katsav was held at the David Citadel Hotel where Putin, like everyone else present, partook of the bread of affliction.
Aside from any political discussions he may want to have on a face-to-face basis, Putin is interested in unveiling the monument in Netanya to Jewish soldiers who fought in the Red Army during World War II. A large number of those veterans now live in Israel and proudly sport their medals at ceremonies at Yad Vashem and at the various national day receptions of countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.
■ THAI AMBASSADOR Nattavudh Photisaro is returning home this weekend after less than a year at his post in Israel. No, there’s no crisis in Israel-Thai relations. It’s simply that Photisaro has been promoted to the position of deputy-foreign minister. During their time in Israel, Photisaro and his wife Waraluck loved to visit the Golan Heights and go horse riding. The couple paid a farewell visit to the Golan and engaged in their favorite leisure time activity. Photisario told Shefi Mor, director of tourism for Kibbutz Meron Golan, that despite a relatively short period in the country, he had become very attached to Israel and believed that what he had done here was productive. He promised to remain in contact and to come back on visits whenever possible. He indicated that he would soon pay a visit in his new capacity.
■ DIPLOMATS OFTEN get to experience a lot more culture abroad than they might at home. Among their many obligations are attendance at cultural events in which their countries are being represented. Alon Bar, Israel’s ambassador to Spain, enjoyed attending a performance by the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company at the opening event of the Festival de Danza Oviedo at the impressive Teatro Campoamor in Oviedo.
Bar was was raised on Kibbutz Sassa close to Kibbutz Ga’aton where Rafi Be’er, KCDC’s artistic director was born and where the company often hangs out. Bar was thrilled to meet the kibbutzniks, and in the course of conversation discovered that one of the dancers is a close friend of his daughter, proving yet again just how small the world is in terms of Jewish geography..
■ HIS FORTE is actually real estate, but for the moment Pini Cohen, who chairs the Friends of Beilinson Hospital in the Rabin Medical Center, is interested in selling Passover Haggadot. The sale of these beautifully illustrated Haggadot, donated by artist Dudu Gerstein, is a means to donate to the hospital while purchasing a holiday gift for relatives or friends. The price is NIS 60 each.
The Friends of Beilinson also held a more substantial fund-raiser this week at the Kastiel Galleries under the heading of “Renewal.” The event featured the works of 31 well-known Israeli artists who are renewing themselves as a sign of life and health and have donated works from which the proceeds of sales will go toward the construction costs of the hospital’s emergency trauma unit. Several artists attended, as well as leading figures from the business community, some of whom divided themselves into groups that pledged to raise at least NIS 100,000 each. Guests were welcomed by Cohen together with Friends president Nava Barak and Rabin Medical Center director Dr. Eyran Halpern. Also present were gallery owners Alon, Rutie, Moshe and Yehoshua Kastiel.
■ HEADS OF diplomatic missions in Israel are very much involved in bi-national chambers of commerce, which play a tremendous role in facilitating stronger ties between countries. Swiss Ambassador Walter Haffner is particularly involved with the Israel- Switzerland-Lichtenstein Chamber of Commerce, whose president, Gideon Hamburger, is also the president of Harel Insurance and Financial Services. Thus, Haffner was on hand at the reception Hamburger hosted at the Dan Hotel Tel Aviv for numerous representatives of companies and financial institutions that have dealings with Switzerland. Deputy chief of mission Natalie Kohlil was present, as was Swiss commercial attache Liv Alperin.
■ DIAMONDS MAY be a girls best friend, as Marilyn Monroe sang, but during a period of economic crisis the taxes that South Africa is placing on raw diamonds have a negative impact on the diamond trade. This and other problems were discussed with South African Ambassador Ismail Coovadia and senior members of his staff when they visited the Israel Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan and met with Diamond Exchange president and vice president Yair Sahar and Yoram Harel Haimoff.
■ THEIR HUSBANDS spoke at different events at Tel Aviv University this week and, although Julie Fisher, wife of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, and Celia Gould, wife of British Ambassador Matthew Gould, fall into the category of diplomatic spouses rather than diplomats per se, they do perform quasi-diplomatic duties. These include visiting institutions such as hospitals and schools, attending cultural events such as the opening of art exhibitions and flower shows, plus a host of other activities that enable them to know more about Israel and about bilateral and multi-lateral projects involving Israel and their respective countries. The two wives recently paid a visit to Reuth, where they were taken on a tour of some of the organizations the many facilities overseen by Merav Mandelbaum and Miriam Frankel, the respective chair and deputy executive-director of the multi-faceted non-profit organization that is one of the largest and oldest in Israel, predating the establishment of the state by more than a decade.
Reuth provides health and social welfare services, housing for the needy, homes for senior citizens, day care centers for the elderly, nursing and rehabilitation care and a host of other projects that benefit all strata of society, including newborn babies, wounded soldiers, victims of terrorism and Holocaust survivors.
■ THE MANAGEMENT of the Dan Hotel chain has adopted the Israel Paralympic team that will travel to London. This is the second time that the Dan chain has taken an interest in Israel’s disabled athletes. It also sponsored the Israel Paralympic team that went to Beijing. The sponsorship is not just a matter of funding but one of personal encouragement.
Dan CEO Ami Hershtein together with Rafi Be’eri, who is deputy head of the chain’s sales and marketing division, decided to go down to the sea to take a look at the yachting team that will represent Israel in the Paralympics and went for a training session with Dror Cohen, Benny Wexler and Arnon Efrati, who have already chalked up victories in other important yachting events for the disabled.
■ ONE OF the philosophies of Reuven Elkes, CEO of the Rimon hotel chain, is that success should be rewarded. Elkes believes that the success of any company derives from its human resources. Thus, the fact that the Rimon chain had a very good year notwithstanding global economic crises, merited a token of appreciation to executive staff.
Elkes took 30 of them on a fourday vacation to Palma de Majorca, during which they watched a football match in which they saw Israeli player Dudu Avat, who plays for RCD Mallorca, pit his talents against Barcelona, took a boat ride, visited a museum, dined in the best restaurants and of course, as all Israelis do, went shopping.
■ KNESSET MEMBER Isaac Herzog together with Professor Yitzhak Brick, who headed the JDC-Eshel planning and development of services for the aged, will on Thursday receive a special citation from the Federation of Pensioners in recognition of their continued efforts on behalf of senior citizens. Herzog was particularly active in this sphere when he was minister for social welfare, and he continues to serve on the Knesset Pensioners Lobby.
■ DIPLOMACY WORKS on many levels, including the academic, which is extremely effective because curiosity and the desire to know are givens in academia.
This week, a forward step in academic diplomacy was taken by Prof. Guina Nassimova head of the political science department at the Kazakh National University in the course of her visit to Israel as the guest of the embassy of Kazakhstan.
At a meeting with Uzi Rabi, head of the Moshe Dayan Center, the two discussed potential cooperation between their universities.
However, the main purpose of her visit was to present a lecture on “Kazakhstan: socioeconomic policies and the religious factor,” which she delivered to political science students studying for their master’s degrees at Bar Ilan University.
The students’ reactions were most gratifying to Nassimova.
Many came up and thanked her for enlightening them and telling them things about Kazakhastan of which they had been totally unaware... “I never realized that Israel had such an interesting partner in the Islamic world, able to find common ground with both the East and the West,” said one of the students.
Nassimova generated so much interest in Kazakhstan that she almost ran over the time allotted to her and Yehudit Ronen, who heads the political department at Bar Ilan, had to reluctantly bring the meeting to an end. Students subsequently sent her many emails asking questions about Israel’s relations with Kazakhstan.
This was one of several ventures aimed at enhancing academic links between the two countries.
■ AT THE annual ceremony held in memory of Israel’s deceased presidents and prime ministers, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu acknowledged from the dais the presence in the audience of Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, for whom, Netanyahu said, this was his first official duty beyond the courtroom since his inauguration at the end of February. Although he had already done so earlier in the day, Netanyahu reiterated his government’s respect for the court and the rule of law, and said that his court would abide by the court’s decision. He was alluding to the court’s decision on the Migron outpost, which has to be evacuated by the beginning of August.
■ AFTER SERVING as Israel’s ambassador to Italy, Gideon Meir returned from Rome a couple of months back and is now a deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry, heading the department for public diplomacy.
It was in this capacity that he stood in the reception line to welcome new ambassadors who presented their credentials to President Shimon Peres last week. Ambassadors are usually accompanied by one or more of their staff members, but seldom by more than four. Meir has been at presentation of credentials events in different parts of the world, and disclosed that it doesn’t matter whether you’re an ambassador or one of the accompanying members of the embassy; it generates excitement even though it usually takes only a few minutes. Protocol for such ceremonies is not universal. For instance, when he presented his credentials in Italy, his wife and children were not permitted to stand with him, but had to wait outside. In Israel, spouses and children of diplomats are always permitted to accompany them, not only to watch the presentation ceremony but also to sit in on the private meeting between the president and the new envoy. But the most exciting, nerve-wracking experience, recalled Meir, was when he accompanied Moshe Raviv, Israel’s ambassador, to the Court of St. James when he presented his credentials to Queen Elizabeth.
Protocol is of great importance in Britain, and everyone was given strict instructions on how to dress and how to behave.
Formally attired, they went to Buckingham Palace in a horsedrawn carriage, were not permitted to speak unless the Queen directly addressed them and when leaving had to literally retreat because no-one turns his back on the Queen.
■ JERUSALEMITES WHO used to frequent the home of Hila Solomon, who temporarily deserted the Holy City in favor of the Jaffa Port, will be pleased to known that as of mid-April she will be back in town.
Solomon, an adventurous chef both in the kitchen and in her travels, made a name for herself with her enterprise called Spoons. She started out by catering in private homes and then after taking up residence in a beautiful home in Yemin Moshe, hit on the idea of making her dining room available to individuals and organizations that wanted to have relatively small functions in a home ambience rather than in the commercial environment of a restaurant or a hotel. The concept was so popular that the house in Yemin Moshe became too small and Solomon moved to a place in Ein Karem where the garden could be used to host outdoor events. Because the neighborhood is so picturesque, her establishment also attracted a clientele from Tel Aviv which not only appreciated the surroundings but also the cuisine and urged her to move to Jaffa, which was more convenient for them.
Solomon, who loves Jerusalem, but also enjoys new challenges, responded to the call and had a great time for a couple of years, but her heart was pulling her back to Yemin Moshe. She has returned to Rehov Touro, but not to the same house that she had before. She now has a larger house, but decided that rather than getting into the hassle of Passover catering, she would spend the festival with her family in Australia and come back to Israel immediately afterwards.
■ FACEBOOK ADDICTS were informed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak via his Facebook account that he had finally succeeded in selling his luxury apartment in the Akirov Towers in Tel Aviv, which has been on the market for four years for NIS 26.6 million after having paid NIS 16 million for it in 2004. Not bad for someone born and raised on Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon. Barak explained in his Facebook message that he and his wife Nili felt isolated from the public in their apartment on the 31st floor. They will be moving into somewhat smaller, less luxurious premises in the Assuta building on nearby Jabotinsky Street, which is currently under construction. They have to move out of their current apartment within six months and, while waiting for their new abode to be built, will live in a rented apartment. The new apartment, which consists of two apartments that will be linked together, is not exactly small by average standards, but it is smaller in area than their current residence.
Because it’s on the 23rd floor rather than the 31st floor, it will bring Barak eight floors closer to the public, albeit still a considerable distance away. Of course there’s no guarantee that he will still be in politics by the time that happens, and if he’s not, it won’t make much difference where he lives. Barak created the impression that he had sold to a foreign buyer when in fact the buyer was Israeli businessman, Playtech founder Teddy Sagi.
■ MOST CHILDREN when coming to a new school have a little trouble fitting in, especially when that school is in a different country. But making friends and acclimatizing becomes a lot easier if one or both of your parents are in the entertainment business and entertain your classmates.
Len Levitt and the Levity Puppets, which, not surprisingly, look as though they’re closely related to the Muppets, arrived in Israel from the United States only a few months ago. Levitt and his wife decided that they wanted their children to grow up in Israel.
They settled in Ra’anana and enrolled their 8-year-old son, Ben, at the local Tali School, where Levitt and his puppets recently gave a voluntary performance that got the same kind of enthusiastic response as his performances at schools and synagogues in the US. Some of Dad’s magic will obviously rub off and help Ben to make friends. A puppeteer, puppet-maker and film and television actor, Levitt appeared in Men in Black, The Flintstones, Team America, Batman Returns and Muppets Tonight, among many others. He is the co-creator of the award winning Alef Bet Blast-Off and Bubbe’s Boarding House, a Jewish family television series that was shown on PBS.
■ FORMER SUPREME Court president Dorit Beinisch is not disappearing from the public eye. She is due to receive an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev at the upcoming meeting of the university’s board of governors in May.
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