Grapevine: Diplomatic distance

Mayor Nir Barkat comments on embassy issue.

Diplomatic Distance (photo credit: BRUNO SHARVIT )
Diplomatic Distance
(photo credit: BRUNO SHARVIT )
■THE LAST of five speakers at a celebration of Australian aliya that was held at the Herzl Center this week, Mayor Nir Barkat was asked by Norman Lourie, who divides his time between Melbourne and Jerusalem, whether he anticipated that foreign embassies would move to the capital any time soon. Without missing a beat, Barkat replied: “How about starting with Australia?” In a more serious vein, the mayor said he was certain that if the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem, “the floodgates will open” and others would follow. What he said annoyed him, however, was that the website of the American consulate in Jerusalem is in English and Arabic but not in Hebrew and that it ignores the fact that Jews are living in Jerusalem. This lacuna was “unacceptable” to Barkat.
What is ridiculous is that all ambassadors come to Jerusalem several times a week to meet with government and parliamentary representatives and that when their presidents or prime ministers make official visits to Israel, they always stay in a hotel in Jerusalem.
It is almost amusing that Brazilian Ambassador Maria Elisa de Bittencourt Berenguer has moved away from her colleagues in Herzliya Pituah and Kfar Shmaryahu to take up residence in Jaffa to avoid the nightmare of traffic congestion between Herzliya Pituah and Tel Aviv whenever she needs to go to Jerusalem. It’s much easier and infinitely quicker to get to the capital from Jaffa. So far, she and French Ambassador Christophe Bigot are the only heads of diplomatic missions living in Jaffa.
■ A PROPOS Australians, the annual Australian Film Festival will open at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on June 24 in the presence of Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner; Albert Dadon, chairman of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange; Keith Lawrence, artistic director of the AICE; Kieran Darcy Smith, director and co-writer of the opening film Wish You Were Here; and various Australian expatriates living in Israel.
■ ANYONE WHO speculated that a rift was brewing in Kadima because the party’s faction chairwoman MK Dalia Itzik was absent from Kadima’s policy meeting last week should be aware that on Itzik’s list of priorities, family comes before politics. Itzik preferred to attend the graduation ceremony in Jerusalem of her younger son Uri, who had just earned his law degree. Itzik, who has a law degree herself, now has two sons with law degrees. If she gets tired of politics or vice versa, she could always open a family law firm.
■ THE PARTY is over. Russian Israeli business tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak, who seven years ago rescued Beitar Jerusalem from its financial abyss, has abdicated his responsibility to the debt-ridden soccer club.
For some time now, Gaydamak has been trying to sell Beitar, but negotiations which initially seemed promising, fell through again and again. At the beginning of this week, Gaydamak decided that enough was enough and announced that he was willing to give away the club to anyone who was willing to take on its debts. Several prominent Jerusalemites who are keen Beitar fans are now looking for ways to save the club from sinking into oblivion.
■ LONGTIME DONORS to educational and cultural projects in Israel, the Mandel brothers from Cleveland, Ohio, continue to spread their generosity. The most recent example of this was the ground-breaking ceremony of the Hebrew University’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, which took place last week in the presence of Mayor Nir Barkat. The new facility will be located near the Yitzhak Rabin Building on the Mount Scopus campus.
The Mandel School will spearhead a revival of the humanities across Israel and at the Hebrew University in particular, where it will anchor the efforts of the Faculty of Humanities to strengthen its five new disciplinary schools of history, philosophy and religion, literature, arts and language sciences. The Mandel Foundation, established by the three brothers in 1953, is one of the world’s largest supporters of the humanities and has donated tens of millions of dollars to projects in this category in the US and Israel.
The Mandel Foundation approved an $18 million grant for the building to house the new school, as well as a grant of $2.5 million for programs.
“Our investment in the humanities at the Hebrew University is an investment in the future of Israel and its people,” said Morton Mandel, chairman and CEO of the Mandel Foundation.
“The humanities classroom is where ancient meets modern, history touches modernity, and new ideas and ways of thinking are born. This gift is transformative and signifies a major step towards the restoration of the humanities to their rightful place within higher education,” said Hebrew University president Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson.
A new graduate school will coordinate with the five schools to help attract top students, who will be rewarded with attractive scholarships. This graduate school for outstanding MA and PhD students will select, train and nurture honors students who demonstrate particular excellence, host the most prestigious post-doctoral programs and serve as a home to collective and interdisciplinary research programs such as the Scholion Interdisciplinary Research Center in Jewish Studies and the Martin Buber Society of Fellows in the Humanities.
The architects of the new building come from the prestigious American firm of Kalmann McKinnel & Wood of Boston, in association with A. Lerman of Tel Aviv. The American firm has designed numerous academic structures across the US, such as Brandeis University’s Mandel Center for the Humanities. The new building will be constructed in accordance with the US Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) system.
■ IN OTHER Hebrew University news last week, a recordbreaking 366 Hebrew University doctoral students received their PhD degrees. Slightly ahead of the awards ceremony, Canadian Paralympic athlete and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities Rick Hansen invited the graduates to stand and give thanks to everyone who helped them achieve their objective. Hansen was one of 10 people who received an honorary doctorate at the HU’s convocation ceremony.
Speaking on behalf of his fellow recipients, Hansen, who is confined to a wheelchair, said, “At this moment of celebration, we are reminded that no one ever gets anywhere on their own. I hope that all of you are reminded that it is because of your faculty and staff, family and friends and community that you are here at this moment celebrating success, and I invite the graduates to stand and express your gratitude.”
Hansen, who was paralyzed from the waist down at age 15 and became a champion athlete and advocate for people with disabilities, told the graduates, “I feel like I’m one of the luckiest people on the planet being with you in this special place, the Hebrew University, feeling like we have Jerusalem in the palm of our hand, believing that new goals and new dreams will be unfolding.”
The other recipients of honorary doctorates were French academia leader Monique Canto-Sperber; playwright and director Michael Gurevitch; Australian businessman and community leader Harry Hoffman; philanthropist Susan Koret; economist Bernardo Kligsberg; historian Sir Fergus Millar; business and economics leader Eitan Raff; materials scientist and Nobel laureate Dan Shechtman; Canadian political scientist Janice Gross Stein; and geologist Edward Stolper.
Beduin rights activist Amal Elsana Alh’jooj received the Solomon Bublick Prize in recognition of her longstanding activism on behalf of the rights of the Beduin in Israel, and cognitive psychologist Prof. Reuven Feuerstein received the Samuel Rothberg Prize for Jewish Education for his extraordinary achievements in the treatment of children and adults with special needs.
■ THE COUNCIL of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel held its 12th annual bar/bat mitzva ceremony for 48 deaf and hearing impaired boys and girls from throughout Israel at the Beit Ya’acov Synagogue in Ramat Eshkol. For many of the youngsters, it was their first interaction with formal Jewish ceremony. The boys and girls were trained for the event for several months so that they, like other children celebrating this milestone in their lives, would receive some understanding of Jewish culture and values. Most of the ceremony was conducted in sign language to allow the celebrants to fully grasp the special nature of the occasion.
Family members who attended later participated in a gala luncheon and accompanied the youngsters on a tour of the Old City and a visit to the Western Wall.
As far as is known, this program, established in 2001, is the only project that provides Israeli deaf and hearing impaired and deaf-blind with the tools to be full participants in Judaic custom and ritual. The program receives partial support from the Jewish Agency.
According to Rabbi Michael Strick, executive-director of the Council of Young Israel, the program has grown considerably from year to year. “The bar/bat mitzva program brings tears to my eyes every year as parents of the celebrants recall the prognosis of their child at birth, and here that child is standing and becoming a bar/bat mitzva in Jerusalem. This event is the culmination of yearround Jewish identity programming for the deaf and hearing impaired population throughout Israel in coordination with the National Association for the Deaf.”