Grapevine: A palace in Mamilla

Israel receives its first ever Waldorf Astoria, Shimon Peres attends the premier of 'The Dove Flyer' and a new exhibition is showing at the Bible Lands Museum.

The Waldorf Astoria under construction. (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Waldorf Astoria under construction.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
- TEMPORARILY BACK on home turf, Oded Lifschitz, area vice president for UK and Israel, Hilton Worldwide, arrived in Jerusalem last week from his office in London, to witness the affixing of the mezuza at the entrance to Israel’s first Waldorf Astoria.
A preservation and construction project, its stands on the site of the former Palace Hotel, which when it opened for business in 1929 was Jerusalem’s first luxury hotel. Construction began in 1928 with a team of 500 workers, who completed what was then a 145-room, four-story structure in just under a year. Forty-five rooms had private bathrooms, which in those days was the height of luxury.
As palatial as it was, the Palace Hotel could not compete with the new luxury hotel down the road – the King David –which was built in 1931, and whose spacious gardens were among its attractions. The Palace Hotel closed in 1935, and in 1936 the building was commandeered by the British Mandate authorities. After the War of Independence, the building was taken over by Israel and for many years was the home of the Industry and Trade Ministry.
Lifshitz, who grew up in Jerusalem, where his parents had a popular guest house in Beit Hakerem, often passed the ministry and tried to imagine what the building had been like when it was a hotel. He certainly did not anticipate anything as grand as the Waldorf Astoria, which has 197 guest rooms and 29 suites, but was thrilled with what the Reichmann family, which own the hotel, have done to enhance the beauty of Jerusalem.
Beyond his own family’s enterprise, Lifshitz began the climb to success in the international hotel industry as food and beverage manager at the Jerusalem Hilton, which is now the Crowne Plaza. He later became the general manager of the Tel Aviv Hilton. He then went on to manage the Sydney Hilton, after which he was promoted to vice president for Australasia. From there he went on to become vice president for Asia, Pacific, Japan, Korea and Micronesia, moving to his current position in August 2012.
In his almost 40-year career with Hilton, he has seen and worked in some truly superb hotels in different parts of the world, but said nothing could match the beauty and the standards of the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria, which is Hilton’s luxury brand.
Hotel general manager Guy Klaiman is also a Hilton Worldwide veteran, whose hotel career began at the Jerusalem Hilton. Motti Verses, who is public relations manager for Israel’s Hiltons, also started his hotel career at the Jerusalem Hilton, but unlike Lifshitz and Klaiman, remained in Israel and operates out of the Tel Aviv Hilton.
- ARMED WITH a king-sized bucket of popcorn, last Thursday President Shimon Peres joined other movie buffs in watching the Israeli premiere of The Dove Flyer. The film is based on the book first published 22 years ago by Eli Amir, the Baghdad-born Jerusalem resident whose writings frequently reflect the lives of Iraqi Jews, their dreams about coming to the Promised Land and the hardships that confronted them when they got here.
Peres and Amir were political colleagues in the Labor Party for many years.
The film was shown at Cinema City, and one of the owners, Moshe Edry, was on-hand to greet the president and show him around. Amir was also there, as were members of the cast, who met with Peres and chatted with him about the film.
- ORDINARILY, INVITATIONS issued by Japanese Ambassador Hideo Sato are to his residence in Herzliya Pituah, but last week the invitation was to the Jerusalem Theater to a performance of Kyogen, 650-year-old laugh-provoking theater that specializes in stories with humorous plots.
- DIFFERENCES IN religion and interpretations of holy texts rested on a common denominator last week, when Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat and founder of Ohr Torah Stone, currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, and Rev. Rebecca J. Brimmer, CEO of the Jerusalem-based Christian organization Bridges for Peace, shared a platform at the Bible Lands Museum. Both bewailed the fact that fewer and fewer people who identify with their respective faiths have a knowledge of the Bible.
The two were speaking about biblical illiteracy, against the backdrop of the museum’s fascinating “Book of Books” exhibition – in which many kinds of Bibles, some of which date back many centuries, are on display. A lack of familiarity with the Bible and other religious texts is harming the Jewish national mission, said Riskin, a Jerusalem Post columnist.
A new Smith Survey commissioned by the museum indicates that the overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis have a Bible in their home; but less than a third have opened it since graduating high school. A large number are not familiar with even the basic or central events in the best-selling book of all time.
“If you’re not connected to the Bible, you will not be connected to Israel or Jewish rights to Israel,” Riskin said. “You will not be willing to fight for it. We need to find a way to bring the Bible to the Jews. Getting the Jewish people to read the Bible needs to be our national mission.”
Brimmer referred to a poll undertaken by the American Bible Society in cooperation with Barna Research Group, which found that while the average US Christian household owns at least four Bibles, almost 50 percent have either never read it or have not engaged with scriptural texts even once or twice a year. It also found that only 13% of Christians read their Bible on a daily basis.
Amanda Weiss, director of the Bible Lands Museum, introduced the speakers and spoke about the importance of being more familiar with the Bible and the importance that both Jews and Christians must place on their central texts.
“This issue of biblical illiteracy is more than just a faith issue, it is a matter of identity,” said Weiss. ”How can we move forward together in solving global issues, as two faith communities rooted in a shared scripture, without understanding our history?” she asked, wondering how Jews can be called the “People of the Book” if they don’t read it.
The exhibition has aroused more interest than almost any other at the Bible Lands Museum; due to popular demand, it has been extended to October 25.
- WHILE THE National Bible Quiz for youth was held last week in Yavne, an international contest based on secular rather than religious studies was held last week in the Michlala in Bayit Vegan, in the presence of Education Minister Shai Piron and a huge number of visitors. The winner was Tamar Preis of the Yavne Ulpana in Manchester, England.