Grapevine: A lasting landmark

The American Colony Hotel, in east Jerusalem, a favorite watering hole for journalists and diplomats.

Chemi Peres (left) with Turkish cycling champion Ahmet Orken (center) and Turkish Consul-General Umut Deniz (photo credit: BRIAN HODES/VELO IMAGES)
Chemi Peres (left) with Turkish cycling champion Ahmet Orken (center) and Turkish Consul-General Umut Deniz
So many Jerusalem landmarks are disappearing on the altar of modernity and urban renewal.
Before they can be salvaged, historic buildings are being torn down to make way for high-rise apartment complexes, and those that are not completely destroyed retain part of the entrance, around which is built a boutique hotel.
However, one historic landmark, which dates back well over a century, not only maintains its distinct regional ambience and architecture, but has somehow found a way of being modern and traditional at one and the same time.
The American Colony Hotel, in east Jerusalem, a favorite watering hole for journalists and diplomats, has for the fourth time been listed as the best boutique hotel in Israel by World Travel Awards, in which 650,000 voters worldwide participated.
According to Thomas Brugnatelli, the Swiss general manager of the hotel, the World Travel Awards can be seen as the Oscar of the global tourism industry.
Over the years, the hotel has been constantly upgrading itself through various renovations and modifications, while making sure that its special aura would remain intact.
The original building, which is still standing and is integral to the hotel, was the private residence of Ottoman Pasha Rabbah Daoud Amin Effendi al-Husseini, who built it for himself and his four wives. Following his death toward the end of the 19th century, the building was sold to a group of American Messianic Christians who had settled in Jerusalem and who were led by Chicago lawyer Horatio Spafford and his wife, Anna, who were later joined by a Swedish group.
Initially, the American Colony, as it was called, provided for the sick and the poor, so that the building was to some extent an infirmary, but then Jaffa hotelier Plato von Ustinov, a Russian nobleman and the grandfather of British actor Peter Ustinov, in 1902, asked the Spaffords to provide accommodation for those of his guests who wanted to visit Jerusalem.
This soon led to the building becoming a hotel.
Descendants of the Spaffords still own the hotel, and the wife of one of them lived there till her death in 2008. Of historic significance this year, and actually at around this time, is the fact that one of the hotel’s sheets was used by the Ottomans as a white flag, when they surrendered to the British in 1917. It is now housed in the British Museum.
Among the famous personalities who have signed the hotel’s guest book are of course Peter Ustinov, Lawrence of Arabia, John Le Carre, Bob Dylan, Christiane Amanpour, Philip Roth, Ingrid Bergman, Catherine Ashton and Tony Blair, for whom the American Colony is home away from home.
Several organizations that sponsor joint Israeli-Palestinian meetings have such encounters at the hotel, where Palestinians tend to feel comfortable and at ease more than they would in a west Jerusalem facility.
■ ANOTHER JERUSALEM hotel with a historic background – the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria – has for the third consecutive year been named by Condé Nast Traveler among the best hotels in the Middle East. Considering that the hotel in its current incarnation is only four years old, this is truly a feather in the cap of both its founding general manager, Guy Klaiman, and its current general manager, Avner On.
The Waldorf Astoria was originally the Palace Hotel, built in the 1920s, which later became the headquarters of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labor, before being restored to its former status.
■ WHEN RESIDENTS of a sheltered living environment want to manage their own lives, they are often a lot happier than residents of even the most luxurious of senior citizen facilities who have little or no say in the running of the establishment.
That’s what makes Nofei Yerushalayim in the capital’s Bayit Vegan neighborhood relatively unique.
A nonprofit housing facility for seniors, it is run by the residents, who are involved in formulating policy, making decisions about activities and whether to accept applications by would-be residents.
They also have a general meeting once a year where the annual report of the previous year is approved and the management committee for the following year is elected.
The current outgoing committee, which included Nurit Rubinoff and Max Kupstein, decided that it is important to bridge the generation gap, and that this should be done with young men and women who are currently doing their mandatory army service. Accordingly, they got in touch with the IDF, and out of that contact was born a project that goes by the name of Joining Hands. The idea is to have meetings several times a year in which the seniors tell the soldiers stories about their lives, and the soldiers tell the seniors about themselves.
The army sent six members of the IDF entertainment troupe, who came with a repertoire of popular songs about Israel that were all familiar to the audience. This nostalgic gesture did not go unnoticed, and there was hardly a dry eye in the house. Aside from anything else, one of the benefits of living in Nofei Yerushalyim is that residents, assisted by house staff, can remodel their apartments to suit their individual needs and tastes.
■ PUBLIC DIPLOMACY comes in many guises, not the least of which is music. The Musicians of Tomorrow, a group of musically talented schoolage musicians trained by Anna Rosnovsky, a former first violinist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, has just completed a tour of Brazil, after having previously played all over Israel as well as in Montreal, Budapest, Leeds, Manchester and London. That’s a pretty good record for a group that was established in 2006 in Migdal near Tiberias and later relocated to Rosh Pina.
Rosnovsky volunteers her time and experience twice a week to teach children aged four to 18 to play violin, viola, cello, double bass, guitar, clarinet and piano. There are more children eager to learn than she has time to give, and for her this is heartbreaking, because it means that somewhere along the way, talent may be going to waste.
One of the young musicians who went to Brazil is Erez Fogel, 17, from Migdal. When Musicians of Tomorrow was initially launched, the idea was to get children at the earliest possible age, and to refrain from taking older children who had already passed a double-digit birthday.
Fogel was 13 when he asked to join. He was told that he was too old, but he wanted so much to be accepted that he showed up at the music school every day until Rosnovsky could no longer refuse him, and gave him a chance. She immediately recognized his talent and started him on the violin and the viola. He subsequently became the first in the group to learn the cello.
He now plays four instruments and helps to teach the younger children.
He is currently a freshman at the Tel Aviv University’s Buchmann- Mehta School of Music, and has a promising musical career ahead of him.
■ AUSTRALIAN PHILANTHROPISTS John and Pauline Gandel are involved with a number of Israel projects – most of them educational.
But none of the causes they support is quite as heartwarming as their latest venture. On Sunday, November 19, in partnership with the Zionist Federation of Australia, the Friendship Circle in Sydney, Flying Fox and Access Inc Sydney, the Gandels, who are among the most prominent supporters of Taglit-Birthright in Australia, are sending a group of 15 special needs young adults with various deficiencies in cognitive skills on a Birthright trip to Israel.
The group, which will be accompanied by 15 buddies and staff, will tour the country like any other Birthright group, but may need a little more help in understanding what it’s all about. However, none of them needs help in getting excited about the trip, which has been in the planning stages for 18 months. The group’s code name is Buzz, which is the Hebrew word for falcon. The bird is associated with flight, strength and freedom, which is now going to be an added dimension to the lives of these 15 youngsters, whose families are permitting their participation because they are thrilled that their disabilities are not obstacles to their entitlement to their “birthright.”
■ AT A multinational ceremony at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation last Thursday, the Israel Cycling Academy’s 2018 roster was conferred with the title of “ambassador for peace.” Diplomats from many countries witnessed the conferment ceremony. The team comprises cyclists from 16 different countries, including recent addition Ahmet Orken, the 2017 Turkish national time trial cycling champion.
The academy, Israel’s first and only professional cycling team, is a nonprofit enterprise whose values, ethos and commitment to social change set it apart from its competitors, and ensure that its significance extends far beyond the realm of sport.
The team is entering the 2018 season, the most significant in its short existence, which it hopes will culminate with a place in the 2018 Giro d’Italia – beginning in Jerusalem – with members representing three faiths, and 16 countries, on five continents. The 2018 roster is considered to be the team’s strongest ever.
Among the team members are four current national champions.
Orken’s participation is further proof of the academy’s ability to break down barriers. The team also includes five of Israel’s top cyclists, among them national champion Roy Goldstein. All are hoping to make their mark on the international stage.
Team founders Sylvan Adams and Roni Baron also share in the Ambassador for Peace award, which was conferred by Chemi Peres, chairman of the center. The late Shimon Peres believed that sport can be a strong force for good in the world, and had famous basketball and soccer players come to Israel to play with joint Israeli-Palestinian youth teams.