Grapevine: Where there's a woman...

Esther Herlitz, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, was feted by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai for the occasion.

Architect Preston Scott Cohen and Peres 311 (photo credit: Sivan Farag)
Architect Preston Scott Cohen and Peres 311
(photo credit: Sivan Farag)
WHEN PEOPLE say of Esther Herlitz that she is walking history, they are not exaggerating. Herlitz, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, was feted by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai for the occasion. The reception took place at City Hall – not surprising, since Herlitz’s CV includes a stint as a member of the Tel Aviv City Council. She also holds the title of distinguished citizen of Tel Aviv. The German-born Herlitz, who came to Jerusalem in 1933, has been living in Tel Aviv for most of her adult life. She started out as a teacher while still a member of the Hagana. During World War II, she enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) of the British Army, quickly became an officer and was sent to Egypt. Later, she helped to form the Israel Women’s Army Corps. She enrolled with the first group of students in the School for Diplomats, serving as first secretary at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, then as consul in New York, and then as a member of the Israeli delegation to the United Nations. In 1966, she was appointed ambassador to Denmark.
At that time, she was only the second female ambassador to be appointed in Israel.
The first was Golda Meir, who had been the envoy to Russia soon after the establishment of the state.
Herlitz has maintained an abiding connection with Denmark and has served for many years as chairwoman of the Friends of Denmark, which only a few days earlier held its annual gathering to commemorate the rescue of Danish Jews during World War II. In the early 1970s, at the request of Meir, Herlitz founded the Center for Volunteer Services; in 1973, she was elected to the Knesset, where she became the first woman to serve on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. From 1977 to 1981, she served as secretary-general of Na’amat, and in addition to all that, she has chaired the Zimriya choir festival and the International Harp Contest for years. Even that is just the tip of the iceberg; she has a lot more to her credit.
Journalist Avirama Golan, a personal friend who helped Herlitz write her autobiography, How Far Can a Woman Go – taken from a disparaging remark made to Herlitz at the start of her diplomatic career by then-director-general of the Foreign Ministry Walter Eytan – observed that Herlitz had been a feminist long before the term was coined. Herlitz had preferred the advice of foreign minister Moshe Sharett, who had told her: “Make yourself indispensable.”
Israel Prize laureate Zvi Avni, also a longtime friend and admirer, said he had come to realize Herlitz’s qualities when he was director of the Tel Aviv Music Library and she held the culture portfolio in the Tel Aviv City Council.
She had come to see him, and he mentioned a bureaucratic problem that he had. She told him to leave it with her – and two days later, the problem was solved.
Huldai called her an inspiration to everyone with whom she came into contact. Among the guests who came to wish her well were people with whom she had been in touch at various phases of her life – some dating back to her youth. One, Rachel Neiman, is the daughter of Shulamit Dubno Neiman, who was Herlitz’s secretary when she was consul in New York. Herlitz remained in touch with her, and continues to do so with her daughter.
Herlitz, incidentally, is a long way from being feeble and is eagerly anticipating new mountains to conquer.
■ ANOTHER GREAT woman will be honored next week, this time by the Polish Embassy at a reception in Rehovot. The event, to be held in the villa of the Jewish state’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, will mark the 100th anniversary of the first time a woman was awarded the Nobel Prize: Polish-born Marie Sklodowska-Curie, who received the prize for chemistry. The reception will also mark Poland’s Independence Day and celebrate its presidency of the EU Council.
It happens that the current ambassador of Poland is also a woman – Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, for whom this will be the last Polish Independence Day in Israel; she is in the process of completing her term of office. The guest of honor at the event will be yet another great woman, local Nobel laureate Prof. Ada Yonath, who, like Sklodowska-Curie, was awarded the chemistry prize.
And of course, there could be no better venue for the event than the home of Weizmann, whose field was also chemistry.
■ SOME OF the country’s greatest artists would not be where they are today were it not for the support they received from the America Israel Cultural Foundation, which in some cases awarded Sharett Scholarships to gifted youngsters who were not yet in their teens. At this year’s award ceremony, held last week at Tel Aviv University’s Buchman- Mehta School of Music, it was announced that scholarships worth $600,000 would be distributed to 462 budding artists. Winners, their immediate families and donors were treated to a potpourri of drama, dance and song performed by scholarship recipients.
Scholarships were presented by Ayala Miller, director of corporate social responsibility at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd; Eli Hurvitz, Teva’s president and CEO of 25 years, as well as chairman of the board from 2002 to 2010; Dalia Hurvitz; Dafna Kariv; Alon Kariv; Gabi Levin, executive director of the Yahel Foundation in memory of Y.L.
Recanati; and Orit Naor, executive director of the America Israel Cultural Foundation.
In past years, long before they became national cultural icons, recipients of the scholarships included Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zuckerman, Guy Braunstein, Gil Shaham, Mischa Mayski, Yefim Bronfman, Eytan Fox, Dover Kosashvili, Oded Kotler, Itay Tiran, Menashe Kadishman, Sigalit Landau, Michal Rovner, Ohad Naharin and Rami Be’er.
■ JUST ABOUT everyone who is considered anyone in local high society could be spotted in the crowd at the gala opening of the new Paul and Herta Amir building, which has opened up new horizons for the Tel Aviv Museum.
Society photographer Sivan Farag, who is used to capturing dignitaries and celebrities with his camera, had a very busy night, because so many people wanted to be photographed either with the Amirs, who donated $10 million to the project; President Shimon Peres, who graced the event with his presence; acting museum director Shuli Kislev; or architect Preston Scott Cohen, whose design of the new building received many kudos.
Of course, it’s really not fair to drop names out of a crowd of 2,000 people who are art collectors, museum patrons, substantial donors to museum projects and the cream of the diplomatic community. Suffice it to say, it was an impressive mix.
■ IT’S BEEN a hectic time for Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner, who on Tuesday joined the Clean Up the World campaign – an initiative inspired by the Clean Up Australia campaign and adopted in Israel by the Jewish National Fund. Clean Up Israel, which is the precursor of Clean Up the World, was the brainchild of Australian philanthropist and social activist Phillip Foxman following the 1997 collapse of a bridge over the Yarkon River at the opening of the Maccabiah Games. Four Australian athletes were killed and 70 others injured due to heavy pollution of the river water. Foxman, who had been in Israel at the time, went home to learn how Clean Up Australia had been organized, then returned, managing to mobilize well over 100,000 people for the Israeli campaign.
Since then, the number of volunteers has more than doubled.
■ THE LIKUD princes used to be Dan Meridor, Uzi Landau, Roni Milo, Tzachi Hanegbi, Bennie Begin, Ehud Olmert and one or two others, mostly second-generation MKs whose parents had been right-wing politicians or party activists. There are very few princes these days. Most have left Likud – moving toward the center or further to the right. The key exceptions are Meridor and Begin, who are both Likud ministers in the present government.
Veteran Likudniks still wax nostalgic about the once-young princes and will meet at the Jabotinsky Museum in Tel Aviv on November 13 to talk about them. Speakers will include Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Prof. Avraham Diskin of The Hebrew University, Channel 1 political reporter and commentator Boaz Shapira and advertising executive Gil Samsonov. The evening will be moderated by former MK and Jabotinsky Institute director Yossi Ahimeir, who was director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office during the administration of Yitzhak Shamir. Ahimeir knows all the princes well; he even grew up with some of them.
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