Grapevine: Music to his ears

President Reuven Rivlin (photo credit: REUTERS)
President Reuven Rivlin
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One of the perks of being president of the state is that one gets a front-row seat at some of the country’s major cultural events. Thus, on Thursday, July 30, which also happens to be Tu Be’av, the most romantic date in the Hebrew calendar, President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, will host the 30th anniversary celebration of the Israel Opera. The event will be moderated by Chaim Topol. Speakers at the event will include Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, and Israel Opera director Hanna Munitz. The orchestra will be conducted by Daniel Cohen.
Two similar events were held at the President’s Residence in 2011 when Shimon Peres was in office. In July, there was the 75th anniversary of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra which played on the lawns of the presidential gardens under the baton of Zubin Mehta; and just over a month later Peres hosted the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Gesher Theater. Next year, it will be Rivlin’s turn to host the 80th anniversary celebrations of the IPO and the silver anniversary of Gesher.
Meanwhile, he’ll be in Tel Aviv on August 5 to attend the gala 25th anniversary concert of Keshet Eilon which each year at Kibbutz Eilon conducts summer master classes for talented violinists from around the world.
■ IS THE bastion of left-wing opinion, Haaretz, turning to the right? Anyone reading features written by the paper’s literary editor, Benny Ziffer, could be forgiven for thinking that from left of center, Haaretz is veering to right of center.
In February of this year Ziffer spent two hours interviewing Sara Netanyahu and by his own account was dazzled by her. He had gone to find out for himself whether national Sara-phobia was justified, and he reached the conclusion that it was not.
To those who might wonder how the literary editor of a publication that had been far from kind to Netanyahu and her husband had scored an interview with the prime minister’s wife at the Prime Minister’s Residence, the answer is supplied by Ziffer himself, who wrote that he had come to her defense when she was being pilloried by the media.
His visit to Jerusalem was followed by an invitation for the subject of his bedazzlement and her husband to come for dinner at Ziffer’s home in Ra’anana. The invitation was taken up last Thursday. Ziffer invited some fellow scribes from the worlds of both journalism and literature, and until the cars bearing the guests of honor pulled into his drive, was apprehensive about whether they would show up at all. In writing about the couple who came to dinner, Ziffer waxed lyrical about both Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu. Not that he told his readers anything they didn’t know before about the prime minister’s brilliant mind and phenomenal memory, though perhaps they were unaware of Sara’s wonderful sense of humor.
While such attributes are appreciated at any social gathering, Ziffer went to the extent of actually fawning when writing about that night with the Netanyahus.
“For a moment on that Thursday evening, the living room in our home in Ra’anana seemed to be a salon from days of yore, in Mandatory Jerusalem or in Istanbul, or perhaps in the New York of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – bathed in the pale light of the crystal chandelier that fell on the porcelain statuettes in the dark cabinets and on the wine glasses, and was absorbed in the deep-purple wall carpets. Chronological time had receded, and when I looked at the dinner’s guests of honor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, who were immersed in a lively conversation with the other guests, I hoped that the magic would never fade….“ Then as the night progressed, Ziffer recalling it afterward wrote: “The hierarchies were blurred by now, too. No longer was it ‘the prime minister’ and ‘Mrs. Sara Netanyahu’ but two fascinating guests who had seemingly come from some distant place: she with her marvelous sense of humor, he with his dizzying knowledge and his phenomenal memory for details….”
Even the reporters at Israel Hayom could not do better.
The website version, which appeared two days before the print versions, includes several photographs and also has a video of Ziffer talking about the Netanyahus’ visit to his home, in which he says that he was concerned that the air conditioning was not so state of the art and that the house was not really geared for such an event, but that Sara Netanyahu put him at ease when she told him that they had been at places so strange that he could not imagine, particularly in the European castles. She instanced a time when they were staying in a palace and wanted to open the curtains of their bedroom. The curtains fell down on the bed together with the pelmet, the dust of decades and the spiders’ webs.
The conversation was so lively and entertaining that Ziffer did not get around to serving the food till 11.30 p.m., after which there was a concert recital and then the conversation was resumed. At 1 a.m. Netanyahu’s weary security detail signaled that it was time to go home, but the Netanyahus continued to linger, which for Ziffer was a sign that the couple had enjoyed themselves.
■ ELSEWHERE IN last Friday’s Haaretz, readers are brought down to earth by regular op-ed contributor and former government minister Yossi Sarid, who in his habitually caustic fashion relates back to an earlier in the month visit by Netanyahu to the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv. Sarid’s column does not usually include photographs, but this time it did under the heading of “The Last Laugh.” It shows Netanyahu sitting on a chair in the center of one of the photo galleries laughing uproariously and the crowd laughing with him. It may be remembered that, for a long time, the Rabin family cold-shouldered him because he had been among those whose speeches against Rabin were considered by them as a form of incitement. Commenting on the photograph, which had been sent to him by a reader, Sarid wrote: “We’re all curious to know what had them laughing so hard, what amusing inscription they were seeing on the wall at that moment. Perhaps Netanyahu had just spotted himself in the video clips – ‘Oh look, there I am!’ And all the others understood who had the last laugh, and laughed with him.”
■ APOLOGIES ARE due to Mariah Carey for the misspelling of her name in last Friday’s Grapevine. Names are very important, whether they belong to the famous or to the relatively anonymous. While it’s true that the writer of this column is fond of Indian food and may have subconsciously been thinking about it when writing about Carey’s upcoming performance in Rishon Lezion on August 18, it is also possible that her computer played tricks on her, which it occasionally does.
Manufactured in China, the computer has apparently been programmed to take artificial intelligence to its nth degree. It has happened far too often that something that was deliberately typed slowly, to ensure that there were no typographical errors, came out with one or two words in the sentence completely garbled or simply as another word than the one intended. Whether this happened last week is hard to say, though the error was noticed by several alert readers. Even though her name is not spelled the way it appeared, there is no doubt that Carey will put a lot of spice into her performance.
■ BOTH CROATIAN PRESIDENT Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi checked into Jerusalem’s King David Hotel on the same day last week, which caused a little bit of an extra headache for the ever affable and efficient deputy general manager Sheldon Ritz, who is also in charge of foreign delegations.
Ritz, who personally knocks himself out to ensure that every need of visiting dignitaries is met, was perhaps fortunate that the dignitary he most wanted to welcome decided not to come to Israel at this time. Ritz was looking forward to the visit of the king of Swaziland, Mswati III, who was born prince Makhosetive Diamini. The king succeeded his father, Sobhuza II, who reigned for 82 years.
He is the son of Ntfombi Tfwala, one of the youngest of his father’s 125 wives. The king, who has many half siblings and several wives of his own plus a large brood of children, was named crown prince when he was 14, sent to England for an education and crowned king at age 18 in 1986.
■ THE WARS of the Jews go back to biblical times. The Bible gives many examples of internecine strife, so it is hardly surprising that the differences between various branches of Judaism often lead to acrimonious charges of one against the other rather than a harmonious acknowledgment that they are all branches from the same tree. In terms of religious identity, those who are more liberal in their practice and beliefs are regarded as heretics by the others, and those who are stricter in their practice and beliefs are regarded as fanatics by the others. The various groups often ostracize one another and to some extent put aside their differences only when there is an existential threat to Israel or to Jewish communities anywhere in the world.
Sometimes memory plays tricks on us. For instance, many people mistakenly believe that the struggle for Soviet Jewry was the most unifying mission of the Jewish people in contemporary history. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who was the hero of that struggle before he went to prison as well as during the years that he was incarcerated by the Soviet authorities, was among some 150 people invited to a pre-Tisha Be’av Jewish unity study session hosted last week by Rivlin. Recalling the many organizations that campaigned for the freedom of Soviet Jews, Sharansky noted that most of them were not speaking to each other, and that when he was still free to send information to them, he had to be careful about what he was sending to which group.
Although he didn’t say so, it’s very much like today’s situation in which so many groups and individuals claim to be spokesmen for Israel and often denigrate each other let alone coordinate with the Foreign Ministry or the Prime Minister’s Office.
While some of the media reports sensationalized the fact that Rabbi Meir Azari of the Daniel Center for Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv; Dr. Moti Zeira, director of Hamidrasha at Oranim College; Rabbi Chaya Rowen Baker of the Ramot Zion Masorti community in Jerusalem and Rabbi Benny Lau of Jerusalem’s Ramban community and head of the 929 Torah study initiative were sitting together at the same table at the President’s Residence, Rachel Lior, professor of Jewish philosophy and Jewish mystical thought at the Hebrew University, in summing up the Tisha Be’av lessons, made the point that none of the speakers had promoted the religious stream to which they adhere, but that each had given a universal lesson for Tisha Be’av.
Lau, who is a nephew and cousin to past and present chief rabbis of Israel, commented that the date coincided with the 70th anniversary of the arrival in the Land of Israel of his late father, Naphtali Lau-Lavie, who spoke of the nightmarish voyage on the ship and of how, when the rabbi on board wanted to conduct a prayer service, there were those who joined him, but there was another group that, despite the commonality of their suffering, would not pray with the group that assembled with the rabbi.
As it happens, Lau and Azari are personal friends, regardless of the differences in their embracing of the faith. Azari disclosed that when he received Rivlin’s invitation, he was in Poland and happened to be at a Jewish cemetery where some of Lau’s ancestors are buried. As soon as he realized this, he sent him an SMS.
Treating all streams of Judaism as members of one family, Rivlin said: “We need to learn not how to agree with each other but how to disagree.” The moderator, former MK Dr.
Einat Wilf, who is currently with the Jewish People Policy Institute, said that she spends much of her life being a roving ambassador talking to people around the world about Zionism, Judaism and the State of Israel.
When asked who is a Jew, she explains that a Jew is someone who meets with other Jews to debate who is a Jew. When asked about the Jewish state, she says that it’s the only state in the world that argues over the meaning of a Jewish state. “We have to both celebrate and suffer the differences between us and learn to tolerate each other,” she said. “Our identity is the core issue of the dispute.”
■ AUSTRALIAN LIFESAVERS will be in Israel next week for the launch of a pilot Israel Nippers program based on the successful Australian Nippers program that has been in operation for 50 years. The Australian lifesavers will train Israeli lifeguards to run the program, initially at the Beersheba beach in Ashdod on August 6. Once the successful pilot is completed, the program will spread to other Israeli beaches from the beginning of summer 2016.
The program is an outcome of a strategic alliance between Surf Life Saving Australia, Australian Friends of Life Saving Israel and an Israeli not-for-profit organization Life Saving Israel. The goal is to educate Israeli youngsters, and through them their parents, grandparents and the community, about conducting themselves safely on the beach, and thereby reduce drownings.
Two Australian lifesavers, Doug and Heather Hawkins, who are leading trainers in Australia, have already arrived in Israel to conduct the first training session in Ashdod. It goes without saying that Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma, who has three young daughters, and a swimming pool at his residence, will be on hand. Sharma who is also an allround athlete, may even join the lifesavers in explaining the importance of the program.
■ IN MARCH 2011, six months after taking up his post in Israel, former British ambassador Matthew Gould, who is now director of cybersecurity at the UK’s Cabinet Office, accepted an invitation to speak at the Weizmann Hall in the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem. He was the first British ambassador to set foot inside the Jewish Agency building and asked to see the cache where the Hagana hid its weapons from the British in the prestate era. The event was unfortunately at night and no one had a key to that part of the building.
But forewarned is forearmed (pardon the pun), and it’s possible that someone will have the foresight to get the key on August 20, the date that Gould’s successor, David Quarrey, is scheduled to speak at the same venue. Like Gould, Quarrey was invited by Europeans for Israel, together with the Zionist Federation, the Jewish National Fund and the World Zionist Organization.
Incidentally, the cleverly disguised cache was the work of master carpenter Leo Wissmann of the well-known Jerusalem furniture company. Wissmann learned his trade in Germany before settling in Jerusalem.
Quarrey has worked in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for two decades.
He previously served as the prime minister’s private secretary and was director for foreign policy at the National Security Secretariat. He has also served overseas at UK missions to the United Nations in New York, in India and in Zimbabwe.
■ THOUGH MANY of us have grown up with the adage that necessity is the mother of invention – and this is certainly true of Israel’s hi-tech industry, which grew out of the need to develop sophisticated defense equipment – sometimes invention is just a fun thing in response to a challenge.
That was more or less the case with Israel’s first “hackathon,” a 24-hour marathon workshop at the Ben Avigdor loft in Tel Aviv which was initiated by Tiny Love, a subsidiary of Dorel Industries Inc. of Canada, which inter alia designs and manufactures products for children and babies. Tiny Love, which last year was bought out by Dorel, specializes in developmental products for infants. The concept of the Israeli hackathon was conceived by Fredy Aboukrat, president of Tiny Love and CEO of Tiny Love at Dorel.
The event created great excitement among Israeli designers, with hundreds applying to participate and vie for the NIS 10,000 prize and a chance to work with the company in developing toys. In the final analysis, only 70 were chosen, divided into teams and asked to invent a toy that enables babies to interact with people around them and thus contributes to their development. The adjudicators – who included Galit Gaon, the chief curator of the Holon Design Museum; Niva Ziv-Shinberger, strategic planner at Tiny Love; Daniel Horovitz, head designer of the company; and Gigi Shahal, senior designer at Tiny Love – were both surprised and impressed.
Guest of honor and keynote speaker at the workshop was Prof. Daniel Charny, the strategic consultant, designer, well-known lecturer and internationally recognized curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
“A hackathon teaches participants to fit in to the contemporary design world,” said Charny, who believes that the design process must begin from brainstorming and a meeting of designers who do not know one another. “It certainly requires flexibility of egos, accepting change in the work process, partnership and much more doing than talking,” he said. In this hackathon, he explained, the idea was to think outside the box and invest in creative brainstorming benefiting a search for ideas that will turn into future products.
The comingling of designers that come from different fields, working in small groups, and the solutions they come up with to questions that arise are the successful groundwork at the basis of a winning product, Charny emphasized. “When a lot of people sit together for a limited time, there are many ideas of which most do not get developed but play a part as promising options for the next desired product of a company.”
■ AFTER ALL the disturbing news about leading rabbis involved in corruption and sexual harassment and abuse, it is a blessed relief to find a rabbi who lives up to the most noble precepts of his calling. Israel Prize laureate Rabbi Yitchak Dovid Grossman of Migdal Ha’emek, who has a long record of helping wayward youth to get back on track, was contacted by ZAKA rescue and recovery organization CEO Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, who is part of a coalition of rabbis, community activists, and representatives of lifesaving organizations, to seek his help in persuading a 16-yearold haredi boy from Tiberias who has been diagnosed with cancer to return to Rambam Medical Center for chemotherapy.
The boy had a very bad previous experience with chemotherapy and refused to have any more. Health authorities were threatening to take out a court order to force him to undergo further treatment, but the boy, who is prepared for the worst, said that he wanted to die at home in his own bed. His parents went along with his wishes, but the situation was such that Health Ministry officials, police, hospital staff, journalists and others all became involved. The boy even appeared on television and asked for people to come to demonstrate on his behalf outside Rambam.
In desperation Meshi-Zahav contacted Grossman, who immediately cleared his desk to apply himself to the task. He first consulted with Rambam oncologists and then went to meet the boy and his parents. He spoke to the boy for a long time and eventually persuaded him to return to the hospital. Asked the following morning by Yaakov Ahimeir on Israel Radio what motivated him, Grossman said that there is no greater deed than the saving of life. When Ahimeir pursued the point and asked whether someone should be forced to undergo treatment, Grossman replied that it’s a very complicated halachic issue, but that he personally believes that persuasion is always preferable to force.
■ FEW PEOPLE in Israel have not experienced the frustration of a letter with an invitation arriving in the mail well after the event. This has sometimes caused friction among family and friends when an invitation that was expected did not materialize. Only later does the person who feels insulted and humiliated realize that his anger was misdirected.
Some people, especially those sending invitations on behalf of organizations and institutions, have become aware of the problem and are sending out “Save the date” emails well in advance, followed by an email invitation and possibly a regular invitation that may or may not arrive in the mailboxes of invitees.
Commenting on this sorry state of affairs, Israel Radio’s Haim Ador asked last week: “Where are the times when mail between Haifa and Jerusalem took only a day? Does anyone remember that there was a minister for posts?” Noting that the symbol of the Israeli Postal Company is a deer, which is fleet of foot and which in Hebrew is called tzvi, Ador said that the speed of the postal service has gone from tzvi to tzav. The latter word is the Hebrew for tortoise.