The Grapevine: 20th Anniversary!

This week marks the 20th anniversary of Grapevine in its present format.

Greer Fay Cashman (photo credit: Courtesy)
Greer Fay Cashman
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This week marks the 20th anniversary of Grapevine in its present format.
It was originally published in the Australian Jewish News, made aliya with its writer in 1973, lay dormant until the beginning of 1992 when it was revived in In Jerusalem, the local supplement of The Jerusalem Post, then briefly made dormant again and revived once more on October 8, 1993, at the behest of the Post’s then editor- in-chief David Bar-Illan – who sadly died 10 years later on November 5, 2003, some time after suffering a massive heart attack.
An internationally acclaimed pianist, author and columnist, Bar-Illan wrote in a caustic style, but on a personal level was the kindest and most generous of human beings. He wanted the column to be biting, and wrote a couple of sample items attacking public figures.
Although I have on occasion attacked public figures, I couldn’t be as acerbic as he wanted, because I was always conscious of the fact that many such figures have children who should not be made to suffer for the sins of their parents.
Bar-Illan understood and didn’t press the point.
However, on one occasion, when I killed off a prominent diplomat by mistake and that person threatened to sue me and the paper, Bar-Illan would not allow me to apologize. He heartily disliked the man, the report of whose demise had been premature, and told me to find a solution without apologizing.
As it happened, the man in question had been a recluse in recent years, but in previous years had a large circle of friends and acquaintances who called his house to offer condolences – and were pleasantly surprised and even a little shocked to hear him answer the phone. The next Grapevine column carried an item to the effect that in Jewish tradition, when someone is erroneously reported to be dead, it means they will have a very long life.
Moreover, judging by the number of calls received, this person now knows how popular he is.
Of course, he didn’t sue.
■THE FIRST Grapevine column in the daily paper included an item about Madonna, who was visiting Israel at the time.
The King David Hotel had prepared a lavish suite for her and had taken note of all her special requests. But it was all to no avail. Madonna swept in and soon after, she swept out without staying the night. However, it wasn’t a total loss – she went to the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv.
The King David is the Jerusalem flagship of the Dan chain.
■ GRAPEVINE ORIGINALLY appeared on the back page of the paper on a Friday, and it was a balm to the ego to stand in line at the local supermarket, which is largely frequented by Anglos, and watch people reading the column while waiting for their turn at the check-out counter.
As editors changed and wanted the back page for their own Friday columns, Grapevine moved inside the paper. Under Jeff Barak it was expanded to twice a week, was reduced again to once a week by Bret Stephens, was expanded to a full page – albeit once a week – under David Horovitz, and was finally restored to twice a week by current Editor-in- Chief Steve Linde.
The most heartwarming feedback is when someone who is not a public figure or a socialite, but has been written about in the column, telephones or emails to say that their phone has hardly stopped ringing all day with calls from people who read the item.
Everyone is entitled to their moment of glory, and it’s a privilege to be in the position to give that moment to at least a few people.
■ENOUGH SAID. Back to business.
■ THURSDAY NIGHT celebrations of National Day receptions are gaining in popularity in Israel’s diplomatic community.
Last Thursday night, invitees to both Korea’s 4,346th Foundation Day and the Day of German Unity had somewhat of a dilemma.
It might have been easier had both events been held the residences of the respective ambassadors.
After all, Rishpon is fairly close to Herzliya Pituah. But Korean Ambassador Kim Il- Soo chose to have his reception at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, while German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis, who for two years held the Day of German Unity reception at the Rabin Center while his residence was undergoing serious renovation and repair, was happy to once more be standing on his balcony at home to address his guests.
Not only did both ambassadors choose the same day on which to celebrate, but also the same time, which posed a problem for several heads of diplomatic missions. Some stayed longer than usual in Tel Aviv and sent their spouses to the German reception, where they joined them later. In fact, there was an early exodus from the Korean reception by non- Asian diplomats; some didn’t even wait for the speeches. But the ambassadors from Asian countries remained at the Korean reception long after the speeches were over. This was diplomatic solidarity at its best.
Although the government was represented at the Korean reception by Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, the guest of honor was former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was surrounded by an admiring throng of diplomats and businesspeople.
Fresh from his day in court, when his former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, stormed out in anger, Olmert was relaxed, smiling and genial.
Asked by the writer of this column whether he still had voting rights in Jerusalem, he said no, but because he owns homes in both Mevaseret Zion and Tel Aviv, has voting rights in both – and has decided to vote in Tel Aviv.
Asked who he would vote for in the upcoming mayoral election if he still had voting rights in Jerusalem, Olmert unhesitatingly replied: “Moshe Lion.”
Guests were treated to superb renditions of the national anthems of the Korean Republic and Israel by Korean coloratura Kim Kyoung-Heejing, who is the wife of the World Bank representative in Israel.
Ambassador Kim noted that both the Republic of South Korea and the State of Israel were established in 1948, and said that in many ways the two countries were mirror images of each other – despite the distance that separates them. Both lack natural resources. Both have been subjected to wars and threats. Both have highly developed economies, and both seek peace. Kim wondered which would achieve peace first, taking into account that Israel has resumed peace talks with the Palestinians, and South Korea is entering into a dialogue with North Korea.
In listing the similarities, he neglected to mention that both countries had two generations of presidents from the one family.
Park Geun-hye, the sixth and current president of the Sixth Republic of Korea, is the daughter of former president Park Chung-hee, who was the first president of the Fourth Republic. Chaim Weizmann was the first president of Israel, and his nephew Ezer Weizman was Israel’s seventh president.
Bennett said he has four children: Yossi, Michal, Avigail and David, aged from eight to one and a half. The first song that David learned to sing, he said, was not in Hebrew – but in Korean. “He sings ‘Gangnam Style’ all the time.”
Ties between Israel and Korea go back 51 years, said Bennett, and echoing Kim, observed that both countries have known periods of war but strive for peace. While Israel is using diplomatic means against Iran, Bennett continued, South Korea has the threat from the north. “But we haven’t allowed that to slow us down,” he said, speaking for both countries.
Bilateral trade currently stands at $2.4 billion in Korea’s favor, said Bennett, adding that one of Israel’s goals is signing a free trade agreement with Korea, a factor which he believes would significantly increase trade.
Olmert greeted Bennett warmly, observing from the podium that he was proud that Bennett was sitting in the same chair and in the same office he had occupied when he was industry and trade minister.Only the ministerial title has changed, he said.
Olmert, who is scheduled to be in South Korea this week, told Kim there was one issue that unites Israelis in the administration and in the opposition – they are all for South Korea, and against North Korea. He hastened to clarify that Israelis have nothing against the North Korean people, only against the policies of the North Korean government.
Olmert asked Kim to convey this to President Park, adding that otherwise he would do so himself in person. He also mentioned the presence at the reception of former minister Ran Cohen, and MK and former minister Tzachi Hanegbi.
■ AT THE German residence, Michaelis welcomed Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who was there as the government representative. Also present was the once and maybe future foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, who currently chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Michaelis noted that in Israeli and German elections this year, both heads of government were returned to office, but the composition of the governments changed.
Germany and Israel cooperate on many levels. Michaelis referred specifically to security, and quoted Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said in a recent interview that Germany will never be neutral where Israel is concerned, and that the Jewish state can be sure of Germany’s support when it comes to ensuring its security.
Like his predecessors in office, Michaelis made no attempt to escape the horrendous past that preceded the excellent relations of the present.
“After the end of World War II and the horrors of the Shoah, we had to build our relationship from the lowest point imaginable. Since the establishment of our diplomatic relations almost 50 years ago, we have moved from being skeptical, cool partners towards becoming close and trusted friends,” he said, citing political, cultural, economic and personal friendships.
Bilateral relations are being enhanced by some 10,000 young people from both countries who have participated in exchange programs over the past 12 months. Several hundred Germans come to Israel every year to assist in the care of the sick or the elderly in hospitals across the country, said Michaelis, who introduced a former German volunteer who first came to Israel as a high school student, then returned as a volunteer some 20 years ago.
The former volunteer is Tom Franz, who has become an international celebrity since winning the MasterChef contest in January. Franz became so enamored with Israel and the Jews that he returned yet again to live in Israel, converted to Judaism, married a Jewish woman, fathered two Jewish sons and learned to cook kosher. A booklet of his recipes was distributed to the guests.
Michaelis also introduced Eran Margalit, 19, who headed the string quartet that played the national anthems.
When he was a 16-year-old high school student, Margalit won a Johannes Rau Scholarship, which took him to Berlin to stay with a German family.
The trip also provided him with the opportunity to visit the house where his greatgrandparents had lived before being forced to flee from Berlin.
Margalit is currently serving in the IDF and plays with the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Apropos Berlin, Michaelis announced the launch of Berlin Days in Tel Aviv, which will bring some 100 diverse German cultural events in the city. Around 17,000 Israelis are estimated to currently live in Berlin, said Michaelis, adding that thousands of Israelis visit every year.
Relating to a most undiplomatic Facebook post by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who wrote that he has little patience for people who are ready to throw the state into the trash because Berlin is more comfortable, Michaelis commented that thousands of Israelis visit Berlin every year.
Whenever he flies to Berlin, he said, he is surrounded by Israeli families and students on the plane. On the Berlin underground, he hears Israelis talking in Hebrew, and his children, who spent several years of their childhood in Israel and are now studying at Berlin universities, tell him about encounters with Israelis on an almost daily basis. For all that, Michaelis hastened to assure Lapid that most Israelis don’t remain in Berlin – they do come home.
Like Michaelis, Yaalon in his address also referred to the Holocaust, calling it the most horrible crime against humanity in the annals of history. Yet while the Jewish people will never forget the Holocaust, he said, the Israeli-German dialogue encompasses almost every field of endeavor. Yaalon thanked the German government, especially Merkel, for the support given to Israel, and said that Germany is one of the few countries with which Israel has permanent government-togovernment consultations.
In 2015, Israel and Germany will mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations with a series of important events in both countries, said Yaalon.
■ THE BYZANTINE Church of Bacchus was discovered in 1986, when Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund began planting a forest in what was then the wilderness of Shoham. It has been turned into an archaeological site, which was officially launched at the beginning of the month and is now open to the public.
The remains of the church, which dates back to the 5th century CE, contain what is left of what was once a magnificent mosaic, as well as an olive press. The site is now open for school activities and family visits.
Speaking at the official opening of the site, KKL-JNF world chairman Efi Stenzler emphasized the importance of creating community parks and forests in partnership with the communities they serve, and said KKL-JNF had initiated many such projects throughout the country. Also present at the opening were Shoham Mayor Gil Livne, Antiquities Authority deputy director Dr.
Uzi Dahari, and the Readymix Group’s stone and lime quarries director-general Menachem Intertur, who had made a significant contribution to the restoration of the site.
The park, with its carefully tended forest section, covers an area of 200 hectares (about 495 acres).
■ CZECH PRESIDENT Milos Zeman, at the reception hosted in his honor by President Shimon Peres on Monday, declared that he had doubts about the EU’s guidelines with regard to Israel. The soft policy of the EU always reminded him of the appeasement policy of the 1930s, “and we all know the consequences of that,” he said.
The fight against terrorism by all civilized countries, Zeman insisted, “must be based on no negotiations with terrorists.”
The only way to get rid of terrorism, he emphasized, was to just fight it. If not, he warned, the consequences will make the future fight more complicated than it is at present.
Zeman told Peres that Israel is an oasis of democracy in the Middle East and as a technological tiger, has the full support of the Czech Republic. Citing examples of Czech support, Zeman said his country’s foreign minister, who is traveling with him, worked hard to persuade the EU to include Hezbollah on its blacklist. His defense minister also negotiated at the UN in New York for the Czech Mission to replace the Austrian Mission, which had been withdrawn from the Golan Heights. The list could go on and on, he said.
Due to the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the state dinner which Peres hosted on Monday night in Zeman’s honor was diminished in nature and size.
Peres thought it inappropriate to hold a festive event on a day in which the nation had lost one of its giant figures, in addition to which many of the invitees were unable to get to Jerusalem – because so many of the roads were blocked. So the event became a working dinner, with far fewer participants than originally scheduled.
■ NOT ALL Russian immigrants arrive in Israel destitute.
Philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin, who saved Beit Hatfutsot from closure and broadened the scope of its operations, is a former high-ranking Yukos executive and before that a high-ranking banker, who has also engaged in both national and Jewish politics. Before making aliya 10 years ago, he served as president of the Russian Jewish Congress and was influential in the preservation of Jewish heritage projects, contributing to many Jewish educational programs. He also spent a short period as rector of the Russian State University for the Humanities.
It was only natural when he came to Israel that he should continue Jewish educational and cultural projects. In fact, the first was at the Hebrew University, where he established the Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and East European Jewry. He has supported other projects through the Nadav Fund, which he established with two colleagues.
Much of his philanthropy was channeled through Keren Hayesod.
He has twice made the Forbes list of the world’s 100 wealthiest people. While still in Russia, he spent a year as deputy director- general of the ITAR TASS News Agency, and revived his media interests two years ago when he acquired a 20-percent stake in Haaretz.
On Thursday of this week, Nevzlin will launch a three-day celebration to mark the 10th anniversary of his aliya. It will be a lot more than just a party.
Nevzlin is hosting a three-day conference on freedom, democracy and justice at the Cramim Resort & Spa, in appreciation of major differences between life in Israel and in Russia.
■ BRITISH AMBASSADOR Matthew Gould last week joined thousands of swimming enthusiasts to cross Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) in what is the largest amateur sports event in the country.
This is the second consecutive year Gould has participated.
He was no less enthusiastic about it this year than he was last year. “This is a wonderful event,” said the exhausted but happy diplomat. “It was definitely one of my best experiences here. I was delighted to return and join so many others in this very Israeli event. The atmosphere here was fantastic; swimming somewhere so magical with 10,000 others is an unmatched experience. It’s a great honor to be part of this 60-year-old Israeli tradition. I just wish I had a little more time to practice.”
Sport is a popular pastime in the Gould family. Later this month, the ambassador’s wife, Celia, who is head of the International Women’s Club, will be participating in the 10-km. Tel Aviv night run. She will be running to raise money for Chimes, a nonprofit that provides care for mentally challenged children and adults.
■ DOES THE British Royal Family wield more clout than the Council of Europe? British royals have a long history of circumcision. Admittedly, it would be easier for them than for European Jews or Muslims to agree not to practice circumcision, but tradition is tradition, and one somehow suspects that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth would not be overjoyed at the idea that due to a decision by the Council of Europe, a future king of England would not be a cut above average.
■ LAST WEDNESDAY, some 600 Polish and Israeli high school students visited the site of the former notorious Nazi death camp Treblinka, to honor the memories of the hundreds of thousands of people murdered there as well as the memories of all 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Israel’s Ambassador to Poland Zvi Rav-Ner was there, as was nonagenarian Samuel Willenberg of Tel Aviv – who is the last of the survivors of the Treblinka Revolt of 1943, of which he was one of the key organizers. Willenberg was present to light a memorial flame and to give a firsthand account of what happened there 70 years ago.
Willenberg, who has written and lectured extensively about his Treblinka experience and his fighting against the Nazis with the Polish underground resistance forces, also attended the 70th anniversary commemoration of the uprising in August. He has been recognized by a series of Polish governments, which have honored him for his courage and for what he has done to enhance Israel-Poland relations.
The high school students held a dialogue with each other, in which they discussed the Jews who lived in the Treblinka area prior to World War II. They also spoke about educator Janusz Korczak, who is considered a Polish as well as a Jewish hero. Korczak was given the chance to save himself, but opted not to abandon the children in his orphanage and to go with them to the death camp.
The Israeli students wore white jackets or sweatshirts with a large blue print of a Star of David. The Polish students all had symbolic yellow stars on their clothing.
■ THE GUEST of honor at the opening ceremony last Sunday of the 10th Jewish Eye World Festival at the Ashkelon Academic College international convention center had not been announced, because the organizers were not sure she would arrive to Israel in time. But she did.
Andrea Pasternac, the new Romanian ambassador-designate, told a delighted audience in perfect Hebrew how happy she was to be back in Israel, where she had been in charge of cultural affairs some 15 years ago. In fact, so perfect was her Hebrew that master musician and comedian Nansi Brandes, who was moderating the event, said she must be a member of the Securitatea, the dreaded secret service of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu. This drew a laugh from the 90% of the audience, who were of Romanian origin or had links to the country, and blank looks from the rest – mostly local personalities eager to be seen publicly at events so close in time to the municipal elections.
In fact, when the lengthy speeches were over and the movie began, they slunk away under cover of darkness, missing the world premiere of Jews for Sale by Radu Gabrea, who came specially to Israel for the occasion. The film tells the story of how the Romanian regime used the Jews as bargaining chip, selling them outright for cash or bartering them for whatever they need. “They were paid only $5,000 for me,” quipped Brandes. “I thought I was worth far more!” Romanian-born former diplomat and MK Colette Avital was there, as was Aharon Yadlin, an Israel Prize laureate and former education minister who bemoaned the lack of government support for culture in the periphery. Romanian-born Micha Harish, a former industry and trade minister who was due to be one of the keynote speakers, did not show up. It later transpired he was in Tel Aviv to support to Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich in her election campaign. Harish is a former secretary-general of the Labor Party.
■ AS ISRAEL’S leading proponent for brain research, President Peres, whose vision is to turn Israel into a worldwide brain-tech hub, will be the keynote speaker at the first international BrainTech Israel Conference taking place next week at Hangar 11 in the Tel Aviv Port. Also delivering a keynote address is US Congressman Chaka Fattah, Congress’s chief proponent of brain research and a leader of the US Brain Initiative.
They will be joined by a who’s who of brain science, including Nobel Prize laureates, leaders of international tech and pharmaceutical giants (i.e.
Intel, J&J, Pfizer, Medtronics and Teva, among others) and top investors and entrepreneurs from around the world.
Peres will also present the first $1 million B.R.A.I.N. Prize to one of 10 finalists, in the contest initiated by Israel Brain Technologies for global breakthrough research and innovation in neurotechnology. All 10 will present their breakthrough developments at the conference, and the winner will be determined by an international committee of neuroscience and life science industry leaders.
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