Grapevine: The best and the worst of times

Israel Broadcasting Authority staff members live in areas that experienced electrical outages, and gave firsthand reports from home, in addition to interviewing local council heads.

Pedestrians in the snow in Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Pedestrians in the snow in Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
To borrow from Charles Dickens, it was the best of times and the worst of times.
It was the best because it brought out the finest of Israeli qualities in people, helping each other in times of need. It was the worst because it demonstrated lack of government preparedness for emergency situations.
The common denominator is, of course, the heavy snowfall, which in recent days left so many thousands of Israeli households without electricity, heat, food and radio, television or use of their computers. The most widely heard complaint was that if the public had been notified of the enormity of the snowstorm, people would have made suitable arrangements and gone to stay with family and friends.
A lot of people are heaping blame on the Israel Electric Corporation, for putting out inaccurate reports about how soon electricity would be restored. But even though the IEC should have been more responsible in this regard, it deserves a great deal of praise for the work its technicians did do in the most difficult of conditions.
If anything this natural disaster, which left so much damage in its wake, justified the need for a public broadcasting service. Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet not only ran reports and interviewed people from different parts of the country to learn how they were coping, but anchors such as Anat Davidov and Pe’erli Shachar, among others, actually interceded with the authorities on behalf of people who had been stranded for too long without electricity, food or medication.
Moreover, some Israel Broadcasting Authority staff members live in areas that experienced electrical outages, and gave firsthand reports from home, in addition to interviewing local council heads. Some of the Reshet Bet staff worked almost around the clock, updating listeners on developments or lack thereof.
Two reporters who deserve consideration when IBA director-general Yoni Ben-Menachem presents the IBA Director-General’s Prize in 2014 are Jerusalem affairs and police reporter Shai Silber, and transportation reporter Yitzhak Perry, who kept listeners updated even in the wee hours, as well as throughout the day and night.
Various MKs are calling for commissions of inquiry to determine the lessons learned from the disaster. If a commission is established, hopefully it will take note of some of the many suggestions made by members of the public on Facebook chats – because public opinion is an important component in arriving at recommendations.
It might also take note of the fact that even someone with the clout of Shlomo Buhbut, the head of the Union of Local Authorities, could not find a central address or phone number where he could voice a complaint or seek help.
Aside from that, the main lesson was that advanced technology is not always the answer. People with power outages and an old-fashioned transistor radio with a good supply of batteries were at least able to follow the news. People with old-fashioned kerosene heaters and a supply of fuel were able to keep warm, and even toast bread. People with an all-electric household but with a picnic stove and gas canister were able to cook, and if they still had hot water bottles in the house, could fill them and keep warm in lieu of an electric blanket.
■ QUITE A large number of babies came into the world during the snowstorm and its aftermath, and some under the most unusual of circumstances Among them is Yehudit Shlomit Shoshan, the 14th child of Batsheva and Harry Shoshan of Nahliel.
According to the story in Yediot Aharonot, Batsheva, 36, began having labor pains in the early hours of Monday morning. Due to her 13 previous experiences of giving birth, she was in no great hurry to get to get to hospital. At around 6 a.m., after her water broke, she and Harry, 37, set out on Highway 443 and realized their worst nightmare: they were stuck in traffic on the icy road.
Harry transferred Batsheva to the backseat of the car, hoping the traffic would start to move. After half an hour’s wait, he went in search of help and found a paramedic from United Hatzalah. By that time, Batsheva was in the final stages of labor. Together the two men started the delivery process, when suddenly two nurses who had also been stuck in the traffic miraculously appeared to offer their assistance. Coincidentally, one of them was a midwife.
Yehudit Shlomit was delivered safe and sound, and evened out the family gender balance. She has seven brothers and six sisters.
It will not be at all surprising if there is a general baby boom in Israel next September. We’ll just have to wait and see.
■ SHE FREQUENTLY sings for visiting heads of state and now, Iranian-born Israeli superstar Rita, who has gone back to occasionally using her Farsi maiden name of Jahan-Foruz, is doing the diplomatic circuit – partly as a cultural ambassador for Israel; partly to promote her album My Joys, on which she sings 11 Farsi songs that her mother sang to her when she was a child; and partly to promote reconciliation between Israel and Iran.
In November of last year, she was the guest of then-Israel ambassador Michael Oren and performed in Washington, where a large group of Iranian Jewish expatriates flew in from Los Angeles to hear her and give her frenetic applause for reviving memories of their native land. This March, she was the guest of Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor.
Last week, she was in London as the guest of Israel Ambassador Daniel Taub, and at a private concert with a sizable percentage of London’s Iranian- Jewish community, she charmed them all – not only with her singing, but also with the frank replies she gave when interviewed by celebrated, multitalented film, stage and television actress, newspaper and magazine columnist, and author Maureen Lipman. (Rita was also interviewed in Farsi on the BBC’s Persian channel, which is relayed to Iran. Last Thursday, she sang to a highly appreciative audience at the Hilton London Metropole.) In her conversation with Lipman, Rita spoke about her childhood in Iran, what it had been like to come to Israel as a new immigrant, and of her beginnings as an entertainer. Asked about her Farsi album, Rita said she liked to sing in the language because it’s her mother tongue – though that night, she also sang in Hebrew.
Lipman might have created an added spark had she also interviewed the London-born and educated Taub (who is the same age as Rita), about his childhood in England and what it was like for him to come as an immigrant to Israel. The comparison would have been interesting.
Taub and his wife, Zahava, who is also British-born, have fitted easily into the British scene, particularly with regard to the media and the British Jewish community, of which they were once a part. Taub has also appeared on the BBC’s Persian program, but unlike Rita, he spoke in English, not in fluent Farsi.
Actually, it was quite a coup on the part of the BBC to have two prominent Israelis broadcasting to Iran in the space of less than a month. Taub was the first Israeli ambassador to be interviewed on the BBC’s Persian channel.
■ RITA WAS not the only Israeli celeb in London this month. Bar Refaeli was there a week earlier and managed to sit in on a private concert given by Lady Gaga. After that, she escaped the cold of winter and went to the Caribbean, where it was warm enough for her to put on her bikini and take a splash in the sea.
■ MANY OF the guests at National Day receptions hosted by the various ambassadors stationed in Israel tend to be the same people, plus a smattering of others, with the notable exception of countries of the former Soviet Union – where the diplomatic community and various Israeli notables become a minority in the face of expatriates of the country whose Independence Day is being celebrated.
The African communities in Israel are not as large, but there is a sizable African collective at Independence Day receptions hosted by ambassadors of African countries. This was the case last week, at the Kenyan National Day reception celebrating 50 years of independence from Great Britain.
Following the traditional playing of the national anthems, there was a moment’s silence to honor the memory of former South African president Nelson Mandela. Next, there was a video segment which chronicled the 50 years of relations between Israel and Kenya, with images of the two countries’ respective leaders captured on camera in both Israel and Kenya, including personages such as Golda Meir, Ezer Weizman, Yitzhak Rabin, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, as well as the ambassadors who have represented Kenya in Israel since the renewal of relations.
The closing portion of the video was a 50th-anniversary greeting by President Shimon Peres, who wore a scarf bearing Kenya’s national colors and the word “Kenya.” An identical scarf was worn by Ambassador Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Augostino S.K. Njoroge, his wife and all the Kenyan Embassy representatives in the receiving line.
Peres noted that he had met with Kenyatta, who had explained he felt like Moses wandering in the desert, trying for 40 years to create a new state. Peres also recalled accepting Ambassador Njoroge’s credentials in 2010 and noted his smiling nature, which he thought reflected the character of Kenya, a “smiling country.”
Touching on areas of mutual cooperation, Njoroge noted Kenya’s role in Operation Entebbe in July 1976 as well as the assistance Kenya had received from Israel in the aftermath of the August 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi, and the recent Westgate shopping mall siege.
He also referred to the long history of cooperation with Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, under the aegis of the Foreign Ministry.
The ambassador regretted the inability to attend of many, including veteran Israeli diplomat and former ambassador to Kenya Asher Naim, along with other Jerusalemites, and Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen, who lives in Dimona and had been designated to represent the government. All had been the victims of weather conditions and the closure of the road from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Avi Granot, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s Africa desk, stood in for Cohen.
Notwithstanding Naim’s absence, Njoroge told the story of how as a young diplomat, in the period before Kenya gained independence, Naim had managed to defy the British and meet with Kenyatta, who was under house arrest. This was the beginning of a firm, long-lasting friendship between the two. On the day of independence, Kenyatta stood in a stadium in Nairobi and after the Union Jack was lowered, raised the flag of the newly independent state of Kenya. The following year, when both Kenyatta and Naim happened to have newborn children, each named his son Uhuru (independence).
This year, said Njoroge, Uhuru Kenyatta, standing in the same stadium as his father a half-century later, raised the Kenyan flag in celebration of 50 years of independence.
Granot, for his part, called attention to Kenyatta’s personal laying of the cornerstone for the Israeli Embassy in Nairobi, two days before the official independence of Kenya.
One of the highlights of the celebration in Tel Aviv was a fashion show of creations inspired by different regions of Kenya, which was received with great enthusiasm by the guests.
■ FORMER PRIME minister Ehud Olmert is becoming an increasingly popular favorite on the diplomatic circuit. When he’s not lambasting current prime minister Netanyahu, Olmert is extolling the virtues of the various countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations.
This week, despite the presence of Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Perry as government representative at the reception hosted by Kazakhstan Ambassador Bolat Nurgaliyev at Tel Aviv’s Dan Hotel, to mark the 22nd anniversary of his country’s independence, Olmert was given the microphone. He was proud of the fact that he had been Israel’s first industry and trade minister to visit Kazakhstan, where he had signed a trade agreement with his Kazakh counterpart.
This April, Olmert was named chairman of the advisory board of Genesis Angels, a new venture capital firm founded by Kazakh entrepreneur Kenges Rakishev and Mobli founder Moshe Hogeg. Also on the Genesis Angels team is Yuval Rabin, son of the slain prime minister.
Rakishev, who has several investments in Israel, has been ranked by Forbes as one of the 50 most influential people in Kazakhstan.
No. 1 is, of course, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was praised by Perry for his initiative in hosting an annual global forum on world and traditional religions in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana. There, leaders of world religions are urged to engage in interdenominational dialogue, with the aim of promoting mutual cooperation and world peace.
Nazarbayev also initiated the Conference on Interaction and Confidence- Building Measures in Asia, in which Israel has participated, but most importantly, he is a world leader in nuclear non-proliferation.
Ambassador Nurgaliyev could not help but refer to his country’s economy, which is the largest and strongest in Central Asia; even more so, he focused on education and where it can lead.
Also present at the reception were MK Amnon Cohen, who chairs theIsrael-Kazakhstan Parliamentary Friendship Group; and presidential hopeful MK Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, who like Olmert is a former industry and trade minister, in which capacity as well as other ministerial roles he has had close dealings with Kazakhstan.
■ JERUSALEM-BASED, New Yorkraised and New York- and Toronto- trained artist, calligrapher and designer Sharon Binder is very excited about a presentation that occurred in Washington this past Monday, December 16.
The Pursuit of Justice Award was presented by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists to Elena Kagan, associate justice of the US Supreme Court. The award, presented to Kagan by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was one of Binder’s silkscreen prints.
The print unites the Four Matriarchs with the various ways the number four is used in the Passover Seder: the four promises of redemption, the four questions, the four cups of wine and the fourth verse of one of the songs sung at the Seder, Who Knows One? The valor of the women among the Children of Israel is particularly noted in the story of the exodus from Egypt, which Passover commemorates, and which for centuries before the establishment of the state kept alive the dream of national liberation and freedom.
The print was hand-pulled by Binder in a limited number of copies, and was previously presented to Flora McDonald, Canada’s first female secretary of state for external affairs, by the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry.
■ REUTH, ONE of Israel’s leading and most veteran elder care, rehabilitation and social welfare organizations, which is currently celebrating its 75th anniversary and last month held its local gala in Tel Aviv to mark the occasion, also celebrated at the New York Palace in Manhattan.
This past Monday, American Friends of Reuth congregated there to honor Israeli singer and songwriter David Broza, in recognition of his longtime support for Reuth, and also presented an award to Marleen Litt, the dedicated chairwoman of the American Friends of Reuth’s Young Leadership Division. Similarly, a lifetime achievement award was presented to Merav Mandelbaum, chairwoman of Reuth’s board of directors.
Among those who were expected to attend were Israel Consul-General in New York Ido Aharoni, who is also scheduled to be one of the speakers at the Post’s annual conference in New York in April.
■ IN 1934, Revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote a letter to fellow Revisionist Edna Jacobi in London, stating: “Edna, your home has become a stage for most of the historic meetings I have had with one of the most quarrelsome people of all the leftists in the Land of Israel – David Ben-Gurion. Our mutual warm friendship surprises both of us, and when his party learns of how he boiled eggs for me on your gas stove so that we could eat, they will probably lynch him.
“He still makes a weak attempt to pretend that he believes [Avraham] Stavsky and [Zvi] Rosenblat murdered [Haim] Arlosoroff, but I am convinced that by ridiculing the idea, Sioma [Revisionist leader in Britain Shlomo Jacobi] and I have rooted out this belief.”
Ben-Gurion died on December 1, 1973, and as Israel’s founding prime minister, the 40th anniversary of his passing was nationally commemorated. Curiously, the Revisionists held a separate commemoration this week, with a symposium on Ben-Gurion and Revisionism at the Jabotinsky Museum in Tel Aviv.
LONGTIME SOCIAL activist Ruth Dayan, who has been a driving force behind many projects aimed at improving the quality of life for both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as in attempts at reconciliation between the two, continues – despite being a nonagenarian – to be actively involved.
She is currently engaged in a fundraising campaign on behalf of B’Tselem. In a signed email she sent out over the past week, Dayan writes: “This March, I will be 97 years old. Two months later, we will celebrate 66 years since the founding of the State of Israel. It is a profound experience to look back over my life in parallel to the creation and development of Israel. I have had the privilege to live a life interwoven with its historical triumphs and struggles.
“It is a great honor for me to be Israeli. It is also a heavy responsibility, as we have not yet succeeded in building our lives as envisioned – based on freedom and justice. Unfortunately, many of our national milestones – and even some of my personal ones – are linked to the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“The current reality is one of children beaten on the way to police stations, isolated villagers attacked by violent settlers, Gazan families denied access to sufficient electricity and fuel. It is a reality of checkpoints and barriers. It is a reality that is untenable and abhorrent.
“I write you today to ask for your help in changing this reality. You can do this by giving generously to B’Tselem – the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. I support B’Tselem because of the extraordinary work it does to protect the human rights of those living under occupation, and also for their efforts to steer Israel to a path of justice and peace.
“Snapshots of daily life under occupation such as the ones I mentioned are known to Israelis like me, thanks to the work of B’Tselem.
B’Tselem’s work appeals to our humanity, and inspires action and responsibility to safeguard Palestinians’ human rights. Moreover, B’Tselem’s work changes policies, protects communities and brings justice to victims of abuse. Their undeniable impact motivated me to join the B’Tselem Public Council, and I ask you to join me in supporting B’Tselem to ensure that their work continues.
A tireless champion of social causes, Dayan was the founder of the iconic but long defunct Maskit fashion and arts and crafts house, which was recently resurrected with her approval. She was the first wife of celebrated military man and politician Moshe Dayan, and is the mother of politician Yael Dayan, prize-winning actor and filmmaker Assi Dayan and sculptor Udi Dayan.
Still amazingly healthy and active, Ruth Dayan drives herself all over the country, has been known to stand for long periods at cocktail receptions, and can deliver a stirring oration in either Hebrew or English at the drop of a hat.
■ THE BEGIN Heritage Center in Jerusalem has sufficient problems in raising funds for its own needs, but that apparently has not deterred it from making a grant of $100,000 to Yeshiva University in New York.
It is sponsoring a series of programs on Zionism and the Begin legacy, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of former prime minister Menachem Begin.
Hart Hasten, president of US Friends of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation, was instrumental in securing the grant for YU. Phil Rosen, vice chairman of the Yeshiva College Board, and Hasten’s son, Bernard, a member of the Yeshiva College Board, also played significant roles.
“Menachem Begin became my hero and my mentor, a role model and an icon. His honesty and integrity were unbelievable. He was a great statesman, always yearning for peace,” said Hasten, who along with his wife, Simona, were close friends of the Begin family for 25 years. “He took everything he did very seriously, but looked at himself with great humility. He was the complete intellectual, but by the same token he was very unassuming. There have been some outstanding Israeli leaders, but no one comes close to his talent for leadership.”
A Holocaust survivor who arrived penniless to the US, Hasten rose to the top levels of finance and industry and today is a successful businessman, Jewish leader and philanthropist, residing in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 2002, Hasten authored a memoir, I Shall Not Die!, an account of his escape and rescue from Nazi-occupied Poland, his formative years in Europe’s displaced persons camps, and his personal relationship with Begin. After meeting Rabbi Dr.
Meir Soloveichik, director of YU’s Straus Center, Hasten felt he would be the best person to lead the Begin centenary project.
Soloveichik himself feels an emotional connection to Begin, with a shared heritage of both their families originating from the community of Brest-Litovsk, or Brisk.“I realized that to truly honor him, we needed to somehow demonstrate to people what Begin’s vision was, and how that vision was manifested in different parts of his life,” he said.
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