■ THERE WAS an unusual celebration at Boys Town in Bayit Vagan last week. It was unusual in the general sense, but not as far as Boys Town is concerned. Nor was it unusual for other religious organizations dealing with boys of bar mitzva age and upwards from the former Soviet Union. In this case, 11 such boys who had come to Israel to study their Jewish heritage participated in the ceremony of the redemption of the firstborn son, known in Hebrew as pidyon haben. Under Jewish law, the firstborn child of a Jewish mother is redeemed from the kohen – the priest – in exchange for five silver coins. This applies only to male children who are the firstborn children of their mothers. If the father is not Jewish but the mother is, then she performs the redemption ceremony. If for some reason she fails to do so, the boy, upon reaching the age of 13 and a day, should do so himself.Boys Town arranged for Rabbi Simcha Hakohen Kook, the chief rabbi of Rehovot and of the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City, to be present in his capacity as a Kohen.After the ceremony, each boy was presented with a set of tefillin, and there was a lot of merriment with singing and dancing. It was verified in advance that all the boys were sons of halachically Jewish mothers, though not all their fathers are Jewish. For the boys, the ceremony was extremely important because it gave them a feeling of belonging.■ THE JURY is still out as to whether former Shas leader and former interior minister Aryeh Deri will return to politics, and if he does return, whether he will opt for the Knesset or the Jerusalem Municipality. Unless Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef decides to reinstate Deri as Shas leader, current Shas leader Eli Yishai is likely to remain at the helm. That means that if Deri wants to return to the Knesset, he has to form a new party or join an existing one.According to political pundits, Deri has been approached by some influential haredim who have more or less guaranteed that if he runs for mayor, he will have a united bloc of haredi voters behind him. This would not augur well for Mayor Nir Barkat, especially after he refused to allow former deputy mayor Eli Simhayoff to attend a coalition meeting. Simhayoff, who has been indicted in the Holyland corruption scandal, was suspended from office.Regardless of who the candidates are, it is obvious that Likud and a united haredi front will each field candidates to run against Barkat. Under the circumstances, it’s possible that a left-wing candidate or a centrist will also join the race. Barkat will have to do some very creative campaigning if he wants to serve a second term. ■ AT LEAST two veteran immigrants from the US are on the list of this year’s Yakir Yerushalayim (Worthy of Jerusalem) awards. One is professor of social work Eliezer Jaffe, who founded the Israel Free Loan Association. The other is professor of medicine Shlomo Hillel Blondheim, who will celebrate his 94th birthday this month. Blondheim’s mother was among the early members of Hadassah, the women’s Zionist Organization of America, which this month celebrates its centenary. In fact, several of the 12 people to be honored have some kind of Hadassah connection.■ ALTHOUGH THE National Authority for Yiddish Culture has been in existence for some years now, an organization such as Yung Yidish receives no financial assistance from the Education Ministry or the Ministry for Culture and Sports, Yung Yidish founder Mendy Cahan told members of the audience who had come to the weekly Kool Klezmer concert on Saturday night.Yung Yidish works to preserve Yiddish culture through teaching Yiddish, hosting cultural events in Yiddish and collecting Yiddish books from estates. The organization depends on volunteers and the generosity of private donors. ■ ANYONE WHO missed the brilliant Shakespeare in Jerusalem presentation by British actor, director and author David Weston in January will have the chance to make up for the lost opportunity on Tuesday, when Weston will present a master class and lecture under the title “Shakespeare in the HU.”The event is under the auspices of the Friends of the Hebrew University.Weston, who is an expert on Shakespeare and has appeared in many of his plays, intersperses a history lesson on the life and times of Shakespeare with excerpts from various Shakespearean works, instantly getting in and out of character. He is also extremely knowledgeable about the many words and expressions that Shakespeare bequeathed to the English language. Those who may not be familiar with Shakespeare’s gift in this regard will be surprised at some of the everyday phrases that originated in Shakespearean plays. The workshop will be held at 6 p.m. in the Rabin Auditorium of the Department of Jewish Studies on the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus.■ BEIT TOVEI Ha’ir this week unveiled the first phase of its beautification and renovation project, with the added attraction of a lecture by Dr. Ester-Lee Marcus, head of the Geriatric Complex Nursing Facility at Herzog Hospital. Her presentation, “The Aging Artist,” included props and pictures and was extremely well received by the large audience.Apparently there is a lot of interest in living in a retirement facility in a haredi neighborhood. Anyone who thought that they would just be coming to see some of the new luxurious apartments and listen to a lecture was even more pleasantly surprised. Upon arrival, participants were greeted with a lavish buffet, as well as live music. In addition to the presentation by Marcus, they were enlightened by Beit Tovei Ha’ir’s manager, Evelyne Paluch, who recounted the history of the facility and presented an outline of Phases 2 and 3 of the NIS 30 million upgrading plan, which includes major expansion of the 18,000-square-meter, sevenstory structure. Another 6,000 square meters of floor space will be added. This will allow Beit Tovei Ha’ir to house a spacious beit midrash (to host the many religious events and study programs offered in Hebrew and English), to greatly expand the health center and to open a spa. These additions will complement the impressive synagogue, as well as the residence’s health and fitness facilities.A much sought-after address in elegant surroundings by senior members of the religious public, Beit Tovei Ha’ir has for the past year been under the management of the PAI Group. The new owners are proceeding at full speed to significantly improve the premises.■ THE ceremony at the president’s residence this week in which Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch was farewelled and her successor Asher Grunis was formally installed into office, moderator Daniel Pe’er raised a laugh when, after Grunis had made his declaration of allegiance, he told Grunis to return to his seat.It sounded like a teacher talking to a little boy. In fact, prior to the ceremony, Pe’er had to repeatedly ask the assembled guests, most of whom were members of the judiciary, ministers and MKs, to take their seats. It seems that outside of the courtroom, they, like other Israelis have little regard for discipline, and the noise level was tumultuous.When they finally did sit down, they were like any other audience, frantically producing cameras and cell phones with photographic applications to record the historic occasion. Former Supreme Court presidents Meir Shamgar and Aharon Barak were in attendance as were Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer. The reception room was so crowded that latecomers had to stand and line the walls.■ AS ADVOCACY groups for kindness to animals increase in number, more and more people are shunning carnivorous fare and are opting for vegetarianism. Richard H. Schwartz, president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America and author of Judaism and Vegetarianism is currently in Israel and will be speaking in English this coming Sunday, March 4 at 7 p.m. on “Should Jews be Vegetarians?” The venue is Tmol Shilshom, 5 Yoel Solomon Street. Admission is free. Complimentary DVDs of the acclaimed documentary A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World will be given to the first 10 people who come and request one.