Grapevine: Jerusalem of conferences

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen speaking alongside the leaders of the Conference of Presidents, in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2023. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen speaking alongside the leaders of the Conference of Presidents, in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2023.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

ALL ROADS led to Jerusalem in recent weeks – and not just for demonstrations. There were also national and international conferences, and visits by high-ranking officials. All this is replete with traffic congestion and chaos. One of the city’s busiest people, aside from would-be national unifier President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who each also fulfilled obligations outside the capital, was Mayor Moshe Lion, who was hopping from one conference to another. Unlike Herzog, who sends videos to conferences when he doesn’t have the time to appear in person, Lion can hardly avoid an in-person appearance at events taking place in Jerusalem.


ON THE subject of conferences, the Jerusalem International Convention Center (JICC), better known as Binyenei Ha’uma, has – for the first time since its opening 67 years ago – reached the finals in the annual contest to host the largest and most prestigious international conference in the world. The contest is run by The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), whose members represent all sectors of the industry, including hotels.

JICC is conveniently located within easy walking distance of more than half a dozen hotels ranging in price from luxury to budget.

ICCA holds its own annual conference, and in May of each year decides on which city in the world will host it. In general, some 15 cities reach the finals, and the number is gradually whittled down. Jerusalem is one of four cities being considered in the last lap in the bid for hosting the ICCA conference in 2024.

THE JICCA management (which includes CEO Alex Alter and deputy head of business development Rakefet Iluz), together with the Jerusalem Convention Bureau headed by Anat Landa and her team, have knocked themselves out in preparation for the inspection tour by ICCA CEO Sentil Gopinath; director of conferences and events Agnes Mainien; and Tamara Bernstein, who is responsible for ICCA’s business development.

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2023.  (credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2023. (credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)


ALTHOUGH HE owns an apartment in Jerusalem, which he frequents at least half a dozen times a year, James Snyder, the former long-time director of the Israel Museum and now executive chairman of the New York-based Jerusalem Foundation, candidly admits that he can’t cook.  

Sometimes friends invite him for meals, and other times he organizes both business and catching-up-with-friends meetings at coffee shops and restaurants. On average, each meeting lasts an hour, and whoever he’s talking with knows that the meeting is about to end when he or she sees someone purposefully making their way to Snyder’s table.

The system works very well.

One of his favorite places in Jerusalem is the Talbiye Patisserie, just below the Jerusalem Theater compound. He likes all the staff, and they like him. Last Friday, he was catching up with his good friend Pardes President Rabbi Leon Morris, who is the first Pardes alumnus to head the institution. A Wexner graduate fellow and also a Mandel Jerusalem fellow, he was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1997.

Before joining the Pardes faculty, Morris served as vice president for Israel Program at the Shalom Hartman Institute and was a faculty member at Hebrew Union College. A man who feels at home just about anywhere in the Jewish world, he has taught at Orthodox, Conservative and Reform institutions. 

Both Morris and Snyder grew up in southern Pennsylvania near the Susquehanna River Valley. Their grandparents and great-grandparents had been among some 19 or 20 Jewish families who settled in the area. 

Morris is eagerly looking forward to the expansion of Pardes, which he sees as part of the Jerusalem renaissance project. He makes a point of talking about renaissance rather than urban renewal.

Something that he and Snyder have in common, other than where they were raised, is a love of art. In the expanded Pardes, there will be an art gallery featuring works by Jerusalem artists, some of whom will be exhibiting for the first time. 

Morris is happy to provide them with a wall or floor space where they can put their creative talents on display. In addition, artists will be invited to join a hevruta (learning with a partner or in a small group) so that they can gain more insights into Jewish thought and use them as a source of inspiration for their art.

Snyder was in Israel to take a look at the activities of applicants for grants from the Jerusalem Foundation Innovation Fund. The idea behind the fund is to encourage people with community-related, creative vision to do good and to do well. Grants awarded range from $25,000 to $50,000. This is the third year in which such grants will be awarded. Donors are expected to make an annual commitment of $100,000, which is not exactly small money but not big enough to make an affluent person feel uncomfortable.

In the first year, which was during COVID, Snyder was able to raise donations that totaled $1 million. Donations for the following year amounted to $1,750 million.

The goal for this year was a total of $5 million to be split between these grants and leadership giving. The final figure was in excess of $5 million, with approximately $2.5 million earmarked for grants.

Snyder will be back in Jerusalem on March 11, in time for the opening of the renovated Tower of David Museum on March 16. Snyder has already had a preview, and he forecasts that the event will be spectacular.


THE LATE Toby Willig, before settling in Israel, was the national president of Emunah of America. In Jerusalem, she was active not only in Emunah but also in several other organizations. She was that rare individual who saw only the good in others. Every year, around the anniversary of her passing, Emunah holds a Toby Willig Memorial lecture. 

This year’s speaker is historian Sarah Kadosh, who will discuss her book We Think of You as an Angel. It is about Shaul Weingort, a young Polish rabbi who was involved in rescue operations during the Holocaust. Weingort managed to get out of Poland less than a month before it was invaded by Nazi Germany. He reached Switzerland in August 1939. 

He had few resources but felt it was incumbent upon him to do something to rescue his fellow Jews. He succeeded in corresponding with several hundred in the Vittel internment camp in France, where members of his family were among the captives. He also managed to have them receive aid packages with food, medications and religious items. This was achieved by his writing to prominent Jewish leaders in the free world, telling them what he had learned about the suffering of the Jews of Europe, and asking for help. The letters he wrote also helped to save many lives.

Weingort was killed in a train crash in 1946, and his massive correspondence with prisoners in France, Poland and Germany remained hidden in his home in Switzerland until the 1980s, when his papers were brought to Bar-Ilan University. 

There are many hidden heroes whom history has yet to immortalize.

The lecture, including a light lunch, will take place on Tuesday, February 28, at 1 p.m. at Emunah Jerusalem, 6 Arlozorov Street, Rehavia. The cost is NIS 60.