Grapevine: A teenage hero

Aside from all the official reasons for his current visit to Lithuania, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on an unofficial roots trip.

Sodastream sold to Pepsico for 3.2 billion dollars, Aug 20, 2018 (photo credit: ELIRAN AVITAL)
Sodastream sold to Pepsico for 3.2 billion dollars, Aug 20, 2018
(photo credit: ELIRAN AVITAL)
The hero of the day among Israeli communities living along or near the Gaza strip is 15-year-old Uriah Hatzroni who lives on Moshav Yated, which is under the jurisdiction of the Eshkol Regional Council.
Hatzroni, sent a three-page typed letter to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in conjunction with International Youth Week. In the letter, Hatzroni introduced himself and explained what it was like for youngsters in his area to live under constant threat of rockets and incendiary kites coming from Gaza. The letter was sent to the Israel mission at the UN with a request that it be transferred to the secretary-general. It was received by Israeli Deputy Ambassador Noa Furman, who agreed to pass it on to Guterres. Hatzroni also wants to present a letter to Nickolay Mladenov the UN emissary to the Middle East, who has demonstrated an understanding of what the residents of the South, especially the children, are experiencing. He wants Mladenov to meet with him and other youngsters from the area to hear how their growing-up years have been affected by missiles and red alerts. Hatzroni was assisted by Yitzhak Eldan, a former chief of protocol at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, who these days takes high school students enrolled in young diplomat courses to meet their peers and parliamentary leaders in other countries. According to Eldan, many of the residents think that the letter to the UN secretary-general and the resultant publicity that it generated internationally have been more effective than any demonstration in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
■ THE MOTHER of SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum disclosed in a radio interview the day following the announcement that SodaStream had been acquired by PepsiCo that her son had been Israel’s first professionally trained trimmer of dogs’ hair.
After completing his army service, Birnbaum spent three months in America and didn’t really know what to do with himself. He had seen an advertisement offering to train people to cut dogs’ hair and enrolled for the fun of it. He discovered that he enjoyed it, purchased the necessary equipment and when he returned to Israel, his mother made a room available in their home. And people came with their pooches from all over Israel to get a professional haircut for their canine pets.
Perhaps more important were recollections of the warm hospitality Birnbaum’s mother experienced in Ramallah, in Bedouin villages and in various Arab villages in the Galilee, simply because her son treats all his workers from those places with respect and consideration, especially with regard to their religious traditions. Just another proof that co-existence is possible.
■ ASIDE FROM all the official reasons for his current visit to Lithuania, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on an unofficial roots trip.
The Netanyahu family is reputedly descended from the Gaon of Vilna, though for absolute verification or otherwise, one would have to do a study of the book Eliyahu’s Branches by genealogist Chaim Freedman, who spent years researching the Vilna Gaon’s family tree, branches of which are scattered throughout the Jewish world. Freedman himself is an eighth-generation descendant of the Gaon, one of several other descendants whose forebears settled in far-flung Australia. He made aliya some 40 years ago. The 20,000 names of descendants listed in the index illustrate just how far the apple can fall from the tree. Among the names is that of Netanyahu’s late father, Benzion. The 704 pages in the book include the unconfirmed claims of 100 families who believe themselves to have a bloodline connection to the Vilna Gaon, but which Freedman has been unable to verify or disprove. At an event celebrating the opening two years ago of the new wing at Beit Hatfutsot, Netanyahu was presented with a family tree. He surprised a lot of people present by saying that a DNA test had proved he was also of Sephardi descent. Perhaps his father, a historian who was a world-acclaimed authority on Spanish Jewry, could have told him that without resorting to a DNA test.
■ SIN OF omission.
 In the mid-week Grapevine column about the opening of the Adelson School of Medicine at Ariel University that listed the total number of medical schools in the country, we omitted the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The other four are at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Bar-Ilan University, which brings the total to six. Quite a coup for a state that’s celebrating the 70th anniversary of its existence.
■ WHEN SHE was invited by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau (TTB) to come for a week’s stay and pose for some promotional shots, Israeli model Bar Zomer had no idea about what was actually in store for her.
When she and her boyfriend, Avi Cohen, with whom she had been going steady for five years, arrived in Taipei in mid-August, she was in a very good mood because they had been upgraded on their Cathay Pacific flight from Tel Aviv. Anyone who has flown via any major Asian airline knows that whether they travel first, business or economy class, the service is fantastic and the planes are very comfortable. Any upgrading is really a super bonus. For those who’ve never been to Taiwan, it is a truly delightful tourist destination with much to see and do, and an absolute paradise for vegetarians and vegans. When Zomer and Cohen arrived at their hotel – the Regent Taipei, which is one of the finest hotels in the country – they discovered that they had been upgraded there as well. Then when the TTB started taking them on tour, they discovered the joys of mixing business with pleasure. Zomer hardly felt as if she was working, and she was totally unprepared for the big surprise that awaited her at The Lalu Hotel at Sun Moon Lake. When they went out to look at the scenery, Cohen suddenly dropped on one knee and popped the question she had been waiting for so long to hear. Her answer of course was “Yes.” He had organized it in advance with the TTB, and it worked out perfectly. There was a TTB photographer on hand to capture the moment when Cohen on bent knee produced the box with the engagement ring, as an emotional Zomer wiped happy tears from her eyes. That and other photos of the couple were splashed all over the Taiwanese media. They haven’t decided whether to go back there for their honeymoon – but it’s a distinct possibility.
■ ALMOST FIVE years after his death, the name of Nelson Mandela, the first post-apartheid president of South Africa, still carries a magic aura, especially when South African expatriates living in Israel get a chance to meet someone who actually knew him personally.
That accounts for the fairly large turnout this week at the World Mizrahi Center, which together with Telfed and Wits University Alumni, co-sponsored a lecture by Rabbi Dov (known as Barry in his native South Africa) Sidelsky, who reminisced about the relationship between his late father, Lazar Sidelsky, a prominent Jewish lawyer, and Mandela, whom he employed as a law clerk. Seven years ago, Sidelsky and his brother Colin Sidelsky published a tribute to their father, Mandela’s Boss, in which they emphasized how much moral courage it took for a white lawyer to employ a black man as a law clerk in those days. Now living in Jerusalem with his wife Naomi, whom he met in Israel’s capital during his student days, Sidelsky recalled that when Mandela visited Israel in October 1999, Alon Liel – who had been Israel’s ambassador to South Africa from 1992 to 1994 – had contacted him to tell him that organizers of the visit wanted to have a surprise meeting between him and Mandela. Sidelsky’s first question had been “Can I bring my wife?” The reply was affirmative and the meeting was duly arranged, after which Sidelsky was inundated by international media with requests for interviews.
One of his fond memories was when Mandela married Winnie Madikizela in Johannesburg in 1958, the wedding entourage made a point of passing his father’s home. Another fond memory dated back to 2001 when his father was very ill in the hospital. Someone had informed Mandela, who came to visit. “You’re the best medicine I could have,” Lazar Sidelsky had declared, and his condition improved from then on and he was able to go home. Prior to the lecture, a South African Jewish Board of Deputies documentary on Mandela and the Jews was screened, and in one scene in which a member of the community recalls having Mandela to lunch, his wife had asked whether Mandela preferred to eat inside or outside, to which Mandela had replied, “Outside. I was inside for too long.”
■ AS ANY visitor to Vienna knows, there is much to see and to hear in that famous city.
But what for decades has held the greatest charm for visitors is time spent in a Viennese coffee shop. Of course, everyone wants to taste genuine Viennese apple strudel, sachertorte and the multi-layered, melt-in-the mouth Esterhazy torte. And naturally, that must be washed down with traditional Viennese coffee. For two days, Café Nahat in Tel Aviv, on the corner of Reines Street and Dizengoff Circle, will turn into a Viennese coffee house. The menu will be extended by typical Viennese sweet and salty specialties, and one pastry will be prepared and can be tasted in front of the guests. At 7 p.m. on September 3, Tamar Wix-Lerner will demonstrate how to make kaiserschmaren, and at 8 p.m. on both September 3 and 4, barista Valentin Freyler, who works at one of Vienna’s most renowned coffee houses will demonstrate the art of brewing coffee and will present coffee specialties. Entry and tastings of what is offered are free of charge, but whoever orders something from the menu will have to pay for it.