Grapevine: Israel's "open skies"

A roundup of culture events around Jerusalem.

An El Al plane in Ben Gurion Airport (photo credit: REUTERS)
An El Al plane in Ben Gurion Airport
(photo credit: REUTERS)
■ ISRAEL’S “OPEN SKIES” policy is creating more options for the frequent, occasional and would-be flier. Last week Norwegian Ambassador Jon Hanssen-Bauer landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on the maiden flight to Israel by his country’s national airline, Norwegian, which now has a regular route between Oslo and Tel Aviv. Passengers were greeted with soda and cake on arrival. Hanssen-Bauer tweeted “I am delighted to accompany on this first. Thank you and Mazal Tov.”
A few days later, Michael Strassburger, El Al’s vice president for commercial and industry affairs, invited Portugal’s economic attachée, Irith Freudenheim, and Michael Itzhar Belachovsky, the president of the Israel-Portugal Chamber of Commerce, to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the inauguration of El Al’s Tel Aviv-Lisbon route and the maiden flight of LY375 from Tel Aviv to Lisbon with 136 passengers onboard.
There were still a few vacant seats on the 737-800 plane, which has seating for 16 passengers in business class and 138 passengers in tourist class. Flights will be twice a week, increasing to five flights per week in March 2019.
■ ONLY TWO weeks after receiving the letters of credence of five new ambassadors, President Reuven Rivlin will again welcome new ambassadors who will present him with letters of credence along with the letters of recall of their predecessors.
In a series of ceremonies due to take place this Thursday, Rivlin will accept credentials of ambassadors Dr. Vesela Mrden Korac, Croatia; Ghassan Majali, Jordan; Martin Stropnicky, The Czech Republic; Khaled Azmi, Egypt; and Bold Ravdan, the nonresident ambassador of Mongolia.
All ambassadors-designate, when they arrive in Israel, report to the Foreign Ministry and present their documents. They are briefed by Chief of Protocol Meron Reuben on their rights and privileges, as well as what they may not do. In addition, he tells them what to expect at the ceremony for the presentation of credentials, which varies slightly from one country to another, especially if the presentation is made to a monarch. Reuben also accompanies each ambassador to the presentation ceremony and introduces him or her to Rivlin.
He currently has a huge backlog of new ambassadors, he says, with another series of ceremonies scheduled for December and for February 2019. Reuben greeted the new Egyptian ambassador early in the week, just as warmly as he welcomed the Jordanian ambassador a month ago. Azmi, who was previously director of the counterterrorism unit in Egypt’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, succeeds Hazem Khairat. Majali, who was previously Jordan’s ambassador to Spain, succeeds Walid Obeidat.
■ LOSS OF life, whether by an act of terrorism, murder, manslaughter, the result of illness or simply old age, is always tragic, because life in itself is so precious and more fragile than most of us realize. In a period of less than a month, at least 17 people were killed and many injured in traffic accidents on Route 90, Israel’s longest and most dangerous road spanning 470 km.
One of these cases occupied media attention for more than a day or two because it involved the whole Atar family – both parents and six children. Before that the Avitans and their 10-month-old daughter were also deprived of a future.
Those deaths were no less tragic than those of the 11 victims of the Tree of Life hate crime. There were two essential differences. Among those killed in traffic collisions on the dangerous road in Israel were a baby and a three-year-old infant as well as other children who had not yet reached double-digit age. Most of the victims in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill were very senior citizens. That does not make their deaths any less tragic, but the essence of that tragedy is being perpetuated.
For some reason the heinous crime that caused their deaths continues to draw international community and media attention, whereas the road deaths in which two whole families were destroyed have already faded into obscurity, though undoubtedly will be mentioned again at the Israel Road Safety conference, sponsored by TheMarker, at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv on Thursday, and will be dredged up again when there is another death along the same highway – but then only briefly, as a statistic.
The Tree of Life massacre was certainly not the first time that worshipers anywhere in the world were attacked in a synagogue, a mosque or a church. Closer to home, let’s not forget that in February 1994, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli physician, was the antagonist in a shooting massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque in the Cave of the Patriarchs. The casualty rate was much higher than in the Tree of Life synagogue. Twenty-nine worshipers, including children, were killed and 125 wounded. This horrendous act sent shock waves throughout Israel and the Arab communities of the region. Even people not well disposed toward Arabs were loud in their condemnation.
So why has the Squirrel Hill massacre resonated to the extent that it has? Possibly because Pittsburgh, which was once a Ku Klux Klan enclave, has managed to overcome all that xenophobic bias, and is today an inclusive city in which people of different faiths and ethnic origins respect and support one another.
But this massacre came as one of the most recent in a series of hate crimes that have shaken up America. Those hate crimes have to a large extent been facilitated by America’s liberal gun laws. Here in Israel, where so many people have access to guns for security reasons, the ratio of killings is far lower than in the United States, where not only Jews have been victims but many more African-Americans. The access to weapons that can kill and maim is what bothers so many people.
Last week, at the 101st anniversary ceremony of the Battle of Beersheba, Rabbi Raymond Apple of Jerusalem, who is a former senior rabbi to the Australian Defense Force, spoke of basic freedoms which include the right to life, liberty, equality and a fair trial, along with freedom from slavery and torture and freedom of thought and expression. All these freedoms are upheld in theory but flouted in the very nations and world bodies that claim to defend them, he said. “Human life is violated every day. It seems that only one freedom that is real is the freedom to bear a gun and slay decent people.”
■ ONE CANNOT help but wonder what Israel would be like without all the philanthropic assistance it receives from NGOs that support healthcare services, education, social welfare, cultural endeavors, lone soldiers and a myriad of other things. Notwithstanding surveys that indicate that philanthropic support for Israel is waning, new foundations and support groups are continually being created, with many not only raising and contributing funds but also taking a hands-on approach.
Among the most recently established of these support organizations is American Friends of Assuta Ashdod Hospital, an organization that was inaugurated last week at the official residence of Israel’s consul-general in New York, Dani Dayan. In addition to Dayan, those present included AFAAH board members: Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Peled; Rivka Kidron, founder of Passages, an organization dedicated to bringing the next generation of Christian student leaders to Israel; Prof. Joshua Shemer, chairman of Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital; and Eli Nhaissi, chairman of AFAAH.
The Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital provides immediate care for approximately half a million Israelis who live in Ashdod and surrounds, and its emergency department is staffed at all times by emergency medicine specialists. Even on so happy an occasion as the AFAAH inauguration, the Pittsburgh tragedy was paramount in people’s thoughts.
“Even though this tragedy happened thousands of miles from Jerusalem, it feels like local news for the State of Israel, as our hearts are with those in Pittsburgh” said Dayan.
■ THIRTY YEARS back and more, Jews in the free world were staging demonstrations on behalf of Soviet Jewry, with the key slogan taken from the Bible, “Let My People Go.” Now Jews are returning to Russia to do business, to engage in politics, to establish more Jewish organizations and to open additional branches of existing organizations.
Last week Jewish leaders from Russia, Israel and Europe took part in the opening ceremony of the Moscow office of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress. EAJC president Mikhail Mirilashvili, vice president of EAJC Temur Ben Yehuda (Khikhinashvili), vice president of the World Jewish Congress Robert Singer, Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar, Israel’s Ambassador to Russia Gary Koren, and chairman of the EAJC and vice president of the WJC Aaron Frenkel were in attendance. The Moscow office will serve as a center for the organization’s activities in the country and will be headed by Yana-Bella Waldberg.
Established in 2002, the EAJC represents dozens of Jewish communities across Eurasian countries. The Pittsburgh calamity resonated even in Moscow, from where Mirilashvili voiced condolences to the families of the victims and wished the wounded a speedy recovery. The EAJC event was a continuation of The Second Moscow International Conference on Combating Antisemitism, Xenophobia and Racism, which was under the leadership of the Russian Jewish Congress and was attended by 600 delegates from more than 35 countries.
Mirilashvili thanked Russia’s leaders for their uncompromising condemnation of antisemitism, and for the fact that Jewish communities and Jewish organizations can act freely in Russia. “We remember it was not always like this. But today Russia can serve as an example of the struggle against antisemitism, and we hope that no geopolitical challenges will change this attitude,” he said.
■ YIDDISHPIEL THEATER was established in 1987 by Shmuel Atzmon Wircer with the help of then-Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat, who was a great lover of Yiddish drama and humor, and was himself a great storyteller of Yiddish anecdotes. Yiddishpiel, which goes on tour all over Israel as well as abroad, has not had a permanent home in its three decades of existence. In Tel Aviv, it usually performs at ZOA House, but ZOA is not its home.
At a gala production last week of the Abraham Goldfaden classic The Witch, veteran Yiddishpiel actor Yisrael Treistman called on Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai to work toward the establishment of a permanent home for Yiddishpiel, which since its inception has dedicated itself to the preservation of Yiddish culture and has raised a new generation of actors and actresses for the Yiddish stage.
In addition to Treistman, the cast of The Witch includes Tal Avisar, Sapir Baumvel, Gil Weiss, Irma Stepanov, Dotan Amrami, Lauren Pitaro, Andrei Kashkar, Erez Regev, Miri Regendorfer, Yael Rochkind and Niv Shafir.
■ APROPOS TOURS, Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai, who rose from relative anonymity in Israel to international stardom, is about to embark on a European tour, beginning November 12. She will sing in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France and Britain.
Barzilai had a tough time growing up, and career-wise it wasn’t easy for her either. When she entered the Eurovision Song Contest, she really didn’t know much about Eurovision, and thought that the exposure in terms of competing to be Israel’s representative would earn her a few more gigs on the home front. She got a lot more than she bargained for in the most positive way possible, and in the process became an unofficial ambassador for Israel. A very bright lady, Barzilai knows not only how to sing but also how to talk, as Israel bashers will discover.
■ IN NOVEMBER 2009, Joanna Landau founded a nonprofit organization, Vibe Israel (formerly Kinetis), to change the way people think and feel about Israel. Vibe Israel leads initiatives to strengthen Israel’s brand in the world, utilizing place branding techniques with a strong emphasis on the use of social media and the Internet to connect millennials around the world to Israel.
Essentially, Vibe, in addition to strengthening Israel’s brand and fighting BDS, promotes good vibes about the way people feel about themselves and each other by engaging in social interaction and a healthy lifestyle. Wellness and fitness have become important lifestyle factors.
London-born Landau, who is the granddaughter of Dame Shirley Porter and the daughter of Linda Streit, who was this year one of the recipients of the Nefesh B’Nefesh Sylvan Adams Bonei Zion Prize, comes from a socially and philanthropically involved family, with which she moved to Israel when she was five years old. She returned briefly to London for her high school education and was enrolled at Carmel College Boarding School. After serving in the IDF as a paramedic, she again returned to the UK to read law at Cambridge University, where she earned her BA and MA degrees. She also has an MBA, cum laude, from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
Prior to founding Kinetis, she worked as a lawyer in the hi-tech industry and established two Internet start-ups based in Tel Aviv. Following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, she is a governor of Tel Aviv University. She is also a member of the International Education Committee of Taglit-Birthright. In 2017 Landau was recognized by Forbes Israel as one of the 50 most influential women in Israel.
Her work with Vibe has certainly added to Landau’s influence, as so many Israelis are interested in fitness and wellness achieved through yoga, boxing, dancing, vegetarian and vegan diets, unconventional medicine and more. Israelis who care about wellness are often influenced by wellness advocates in other parts of the world.
Landau decided it was time that wellness gurus from abroad should come to see what’s happening in Israel and exchange knowledge. Vibe Israel organized a tour for four influential American wellness advocates with millions of followers on social media. They included Koya Webb, an internationally recognized African-American yoga teacher, Lisa Bryan, an expert on gluten-free products who organizes seminars around the world, Leah Segedie, a food activist and social media consultant, and Jessica Hylton, the founder of Jessica in the Kitchen, a vegetarian/vegan recipe website.
None of the quartet had ever been to Israel before arriving in the last week of October. While traveling around the country and learning its history, they met Israeli wellness experts such as popular yoga teacher Maya Kremer; nutritional health educator Mozna Bashra, who had been a participant on MasterChef, and professional chefs Udi Barkan and Osher Idelman, who host the show Two Men and a Refrigerator. The four American wellness experts shared their experience with millions of their social media followers worldwide.
Aside from raving about the food in Israel, Bryan wrote that she had received many questions about how safe it was to be in Tel Aviv. “So let me tell you,” she replied, “I feel way safer walking around by myself in here than I do in LA! Even at night, there are so many people out and about. It’s a vibrant, energetic city.”
“Israel’s offering in the field of wellness goes well beyond what people think,” said Landau. “Not only are we the vegan capital of the world, our connection between body and soul expresses itself also in our communal Friday night dinners and our health-tech start-ups. All this and more is what our guests experienced.”
But the bottom line was the outcome – 150 million positive mentions of Israel online as a result of the visit. “I can safely say that Israel’s story is one that the world wants to hear. All you need to do is tell it well, be authentic and connect people to people,” said Landau.
■ TIMING IS everything. Israel’s Ethiopian community will on Wednesday celebrate its Sigd festival in Jerusalem, as it does each year. Coincidentally, or perhaps not coincidentally, Alem Wondie, Bezabeh Mulugeta, Mesekerem Tadesse, Zemna Tadesse and Dawit Ayelign, the mother, siblings and nephew of Sintayehu Shaparou, who competed in the International Bible Quiz on Independence Day, were due to arrive in Israel Tuesday night. Their plane was scheduled to land at Ben-Gurion Airport at 8 p.m., which was beyond press time for this column.
It may be remembered that the family was initially denied entry, but after a lot of lobbying on their behalf by some good people, they were granted residency status. The cost of the family’s flight, plus initial living expenses, have been paid for by the Heart of Israel, which raised most of the money from Christian Zionists. Recalling all the effort it has taken to bring the family to Israel, A.Y. Katsof, director of the Heart of Israel, said that it was very gratifying to know that the efforts had not been in vain.
The family will for the foreseeable future be housed at Kibbutz Kiryat Menahem, and in all probability, if they will have arrived without a glitch, someone will take them to Jerusalem for the Sigd ceremony.
The Sigd marks the return to Zion and the longing for Jerusalem and brings together the Ethiopian community for reckoning and soul-searching. The event will take place on Wednesday at the Sherover Promenade in Armon Hanatziv, which overlooks the capital’s Old City. Rivlin and Aliyah and Integration Minister Sofa Landver will address the many members of the Ethiopian community who will converge from all over Israel.
■ HOW TIMES have changed. Not so long ago at university ceremonies for the conferring of honorary doctorates, there may have been one or two women in the group. But 2018 seems to be the year in which women are receiving greater recognition in politics, the military, the arts and academia.
This would account for the fact that women will outnumber men next week, when Ben-Gurion University of the Negev confers honorary doctorates on investigative journalist and lawyer Ilana Dayan, former professional basketball player Anat Draigor, who in 2006 entered The Guinness Book of World Records after scoring 136 points in a single game, Prof. Nili Cohen, who is currently president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Rona Ramon, who has done much to encourage high school students to embark on scientific and space studies and research, businessman and entrepreneur Imad Telhami, and German lawyer Arno Gerlich. The Yakir Hanegev award will go to singer and composer Yossi Moustaki.
■ HISTORY OWES much to photographers who capture moments in human life that might otherwise go unnoticed. Some small detail that may be of little consequence today develops enormous importance in the face of changing social norms and scientific discoveries.
Motty Reif, who as a longtime producer of gala fashion shows in Israel and Los Angeles, where he spent several years, is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in Israel’s fashion industry. In addition to producing fashion shows, he ran a highly successful modeling agency. As a former model himself, it was almost second nature for him to be able to discern, from the bevy of eager applicants, who did and who didn’t have what it takes to be a good fashion model. He has also produced many television shows.
Over the years, he has developed some very close friendships with leading models, among them Linor Abargil, the Israeli beauty queen who was named Miss World in 1998. He had known her since she was 16 years old, and he was one of the people in whom she confided after she was raped just ahead of the Miss World contest. He later produced the documentary film Brave Miss World which tells the story of her ordeal and how she dealt with it. Abargil, who is now a lawyer, has become a global advocate in the battle against sexual violence.
Reif is also a keen collector of photographs of all the events in which he has been involved – not just fashion runways but audience reactions, behind the scenes candid shots, the hurry and scurry in dressing rooms, and much more.
Because of his long and close connection to fashion models, Reif is very much aware of the fact that so many of them have been targeted by sexual predators. It is for this reason that, in cooperation with Michal and Guy Baram, proprietors of Baram City Press in Tel Aviv, he is displaying photographs from his private collection for a one-day fund-raiser in support of Ruach Nashit (The Female Spirit), which supports women who have been victims of sexual assault or who are former prostitutes who want to make new lives for themselves.
The photographs, many of which were taken by Reif himself, are all for sale, and will be on view on Friday, November 16, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Baram City Press, 6 Habarzel Street, Ramat Hahayal, Tel Aviv.