Grapevine: VIP visitors

Members of both the Knesset and the entertainment industry have been abundantly generous in volunteering their time and talents to wounded soldiers.

Israeli model Bar Refaeli. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli model Bar Refaeli.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There has been no lack of dignitaries and celebrities among the visitors bringing gifts and cheer to wounded soldiers being treated in Israeli hospitals.
With all that has been occupying their time this past month, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon have been among the visitors, as has the prime minister’s wife, Sara, who has been visiting independently of him, in addition to her meetings with residents of southern communities.
Members of the entertainment industry have also been abundantly generous in volunteering their time and talents, but the person that soldiers recovering at Tel Hashomer’s Sheba Medical Center wanted to see most among their visitors was supermodel Bar Refaeli. They shared this desire with one of their doctors, who posted the request on his Facebook page.
Needless to say, it came to Refaeli’s attention. She got in touch and this week, showed up with loads of presents and went from ward to ward distributing them.
Usually hounded by paparazzi, Refaeli and the Sheba medical staff succeeded in keep the visit under wraps until it was over, so as to avoid patients being disturbed by photographers jostling with each other for the best shot.
■ Veteran Jerusalem Post reporter and columnist Judy Siegel- Itzkovitch has been a neighbor of President Reuven Rivlin and his family for several years.
Not only do they live on the same street in Jerusalem’s Yefeh Nof quarter, but they attend the same Torah and Tefillah synagogue, a small, friendly, modern-Orthodox, Ashkenazi-style congregation of which Rivlin is a founding member.
Both were present last Saturday at a kiddush hosted by congregational leaders. “It was a small party to which nobody was invited,” reports Siegel. “Congregants arriving at the synagogue were surprised to see folding tables set up outside. They had not seen any announcement of the celebration of a wedding or birth in a member’s family.
“But things all became clear when Rivlin walked in nonchalantly, followed by two security guards. A kiddush for him had been planned since his election, and Shabbat Nachamu seemed a most appropriate time on which to hold it.
“The secrecy about the kiddush was apparently due to security considerations, or to Rivlin’s modesty.
There had been a similar event when he first became Knesset speaker in 2003.”
Chief gabbai Arie Bar-Zion noted that when Rivlin moved to Yefeh Nof, across Sderot Herzl from Beit Hakerem, the aim in founding the synagogue was to preserve pluralism while not deviating from Halacha. “Although Rivlin is not Orthodox, his father, Prof. Yosef Yoel Rivlin, gave him an excellent Jewish upbringing,” notes Siegel. “When attending services on festivals and other occasions, Rivlin is regularly called up to the Torah and often recites the Haftorah, which he does beautifully.
“While neighbors on his cul-desac a few blocks away from the synagogue are still not sure whether he and his wife, Nechama, are living in the President’s Residence or not, it seems clear that Rivlin is keeping his promise to spend Shabbat and holidays in the apartment that has been his home for more than 30 years.
“Arriving at the synagogue on foot, Rivlin was called to the Torah, after which he shook the hand of every congregant. ‘Yehi, yehi, yehi [Long may he live],’ some synagogue members called out, recalling the traditional greeting when a president is installed by the Knesset.
“Although he had become head of state, Rivlin showed he was the same Ruvi they had known and loved. Wearing a white kippa, a favorite light pink shirt and casual trousers, he went to the lectern and said: ‘This was my synagogue before, and it will continue to be my synagogue.’” While he has already spoken at a memorial event at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, Siegel doubts he will make a practice of attending a palatial house of worship.
■ In some towns and cities, the desire by local authorities to preserve historical buildings is greater than in others. In Jerusalem, beyond insisting on the preservation of the external façade, city planning and building authorities tend to allow developers to gut the inside of a building and construct a much taller edifice, which architecturally may not necessarily harmonize with what is left of the original.
Not so in Haifa, where popular singer Moshe Datz, along with his brothers Lior and Ilan and together with three other partners, have had their plans for constructing a modern residential block on top of an old building they own in Bat Galim rejected by the city’s planning and building committee, as well as the committee for the preservation of historic buildings – which not only denied them the right to build on top of the property they own, but even prevented them from extending it in any way. The building is one of several singleand double-story beachfront structures built in the 1920s and ’30s. Datz and his partners have been trying to develop it since 1995, but with no success.
■ Jerusalem's President Hotel, built by the late Haim Shiff, a pioneer of Israel’s hotel industry who owned a chain of hotels in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, was the first hotel in Jerusalem with a swimming pool. Among the frequent guests at the President were David and Paula Ben-Gurion – this despite the fact that Shiff had served in the Irgun, and remained a loyal supporter of Menachem Begin after the establishment of the state.
When Shiff’s empire started to crumble some time in the mid- 1980s, he had to start selling off his assets, including part of his impressive art collection. Some of his property went into receivership and was sold at far below its actual worth; each of his Jerusalem hotels was sold to a different buyer.
Initially, people living near the capital’s upscale Ahad Ha’am Street, where the President is located, were very pleased that the property had been acquired by Africa Israel – which has put up some beautiful structures all over Israel, including Jerusalem.
But over the years, as the property fell into neglect – with squatters sneaking in, vandalizing the interior, defacing the exterior and breaking windows – there was disillusionment with Africa Israel, in that it had permitted a semi-historic building to become an eyesore. Over the years, the hotel continued to deteriorate.
Purchased a little over quarter of a century ago by the company, whose chief shareholder Lev Leviev wanted to tear it down and build a luxury residential complex, it was the subject of a long dispute with the Jerusalem Development Authority. The Development Authority and the city’s urban planning committee wanted to add to the number of hotels available from the center of town all the way to the German Colony, despite objections by residents and real estate developers.
In the interim, Leviev dug in his heels and refused to budge from his original plan.
Finally, in recent weeks, a compromise was reached whereby the new plan will include both a hotel and a private residential section. The number of residential units has yet to be determined, but the hotel will have 180 rooms.
Several new hotels have opened up in Jerusalem over the past decade, and more are under construction. One can only hope there will be sufficient tourists to fill them. Although there has been a general downturn in tourism, three or four Jerusalem hotels have been hosting solidarity missions, and have been able to maintain reasonably good occupancy rates.
■ It has been a worrying time for every family with a soldier in Gaza, but definitely more so for those families who have one or more members among the conscripts and reservists fighting there. For Esti Zadok, it has been a multiple, two-generational concern.
Her husband, Moshe Zadok, owner and CEO of Rishon Lezion- headquartered Hagara Fashion, is a lieutenant-colonel in the reserves. At age 65, he could have easily avoided yet another round of duty but like many others past military age, Zadok insisted on getting back into uniform.
He also has three sons who were called up – and that’s some heavy emotional load for Esti Zadok to carry.
■ The Jerusalem College of Technology’s president, Prof. Chaim Sukenik, has put out an online letter urging the philanthropically and Zionist-minded to contribute to its Combat Student Scholarship Fund, to allow those JCT students called up to serve in Operation Preventive Edge to return to their studies without being burdened by financial concerns.
Sukenik has asked for relatively small donations of $5,000, as a token of recognition of the commitment of these young men to the security of the state, and as a means of enabling them to resume their studies next month at the commencement of the academic year.
■ When Hashikma marketing mogul Rami Levy extended his chain of supermarkets to the West Bank a few years back, there were dire predictions of the trouble that would eventuate, with Palestinians and Israelis brushing shoulders under one roof when doing their shopping. Levy wasn’t worried, because Arabs and Jews had and continued to mix freely among both staff and customers in his Jerusalem stores, without any racial or religious repercussions – and he expected the same in the West Bank. There were some attempts by political extremists on both sides to prevent West Bank Arabs from patronizing his stores, but in the final analysis, it was a lost cause for the radicals.
What Levy hadn’t anticipated was paying protection to a so-called Beduin security guard at his store in the Sha’ar Binyamin Industrial Zone. When Jaman Herlin, formerly a shepherd with no experience in security matters, presented himself to the store’s deputy CEO Shmulik Levy while the premises were still under construction, and offered to make sure that no undesirables would come anywhere near it, Levy recognized the implied threat and didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. Herlin was hired in accordance with his demand for a global salary, which had no relationship to the number of hours he worked. There really was no need for a security guard, because Sha’ar Binyamin has a permanent security network employed by the regional council.
Herlin became greedy and started asking for more money, which initially he received, but then wanted even more and asked for it in a manner that left no doubt as to what would happen if he didn’t get it. But the company decided that enough was enough. Herlin then sued Hashikma in the Jerusalem Labor Court for payments he claimed were owed to him – and lost. He was ordered to pay court costs of NIS 25,000, plus the legal fees of Hashikma’s lawyer in the case.
In all probability, he no longer has a job, and if anything untoward happens to the store, police know where to find him.
■ Terror strikes in the most unexpected places, such as the Sbarro pizza parlor where Jerusalem teenagers Malki Roth and Michal Raziel – who had grown up together and were best friends – met their deaths along with 13 other people on that fateful day in August 2001. They were all victims of a suicide bomber.
Both girls were active in the Ezra Youth Movement, where their memories remain a blessing.
Malki’s parents, Arnold and Frimet Roth, set up a foundation in her memory to help children with special needs, because that was one of the things in which Malki was involved, inspired by a severely incapacitated younger sister. The Malki Foundation also eases the burden on families of such children.
Despite the passage of time, supporters of the Malki Foundation continue to grow in number both in Israel and abroad. The annual graveside service for Malki and Michal, who are buried alongside each other at the Har Tamir section of Har Hamenuhot, will take place this coming Sunday, August 17 at 5 p.m. Free transportation will be available to and from the cemetery; a bus will leave the Ramot Alef Jerusalem branch of the Ezra Youth Movement (on the corner of Abba Hillel Silver and Harry Truman Streets, Ramot Alef) at 4:30 p.m., and will return there afterwards.
■ Solidarity with Israel, when not expressed in visits to the country, was demonstrated over the past month via huge rallies by Diaspora Jewish communities and via emergency fund-raising campaigns. Last Saturday, for example, in a remarkable show of support, the Hampton Synagogue of Westhampton Beach raised more than $1 million for the UJA-Federation of New York Israel Emergency Fund in just minutes, after the conclusion of Shabbat services.
The call for pledges was led by Jerry W. Levin, trustee of the Hampton Synagogue and past president of UJA-Federation of New York, and Rabbi Marc Schneier, the synagogue’s founding rabbi. Levin had participated in a recent UJA-Federation of New York solidarity mission to Israel, along with his wife, Carol, and 20 other UJA leaders including board chairwoman Linda Mirels and CEO Eric S. Goldstein; he shared his experiences with the congregation.
“This was my third wartime mission and I thought I knew what to expect, but I was wrong. The situation was so much more dangerous and the needs more prevalent, not just immediately, but for what will be well into the future. Carol and I returned from the mission committed to doing everything in our power to help the people in Israel. We are so proud that our synagogue, under the leadership of Rabbi Marc Schneier, promptly and enthusiastically supported this urgent call for help,” said Levin.
“It was an honor to support UJA-Federation in their efforts to raise these critical funds and show solidarity with the people of Israel,” he added. “I am humbled and overwhelmed with gratitude and pride over the show of support by our congregation, which realizes the depths of the trauma and the pain and suffering of Israelis, and reached deep to help however they could during this tragic and terrible crisis.”
Schneier urged congregants of other synagogues across the US to follow suit. Pew report on assimilation of American Jewry notwithstanding, when there’s an emergency crisis, what is referred to in Yiddish as the pintele Yid (the tiny grain of Jewish identity) comes to the fore – and Jews, regardless of their differences, close ranks.
■ The excitement at SHALVA, the association for mentally and physically challenged children in Israel, was at its peak Monday morning – as 300 SHALVA children and staff departed for a week of overnight summer camp in Eilat. Camp kicked off with a day at Rishon Lezion’s Superland amusement park, to be followed by eight days of fun and activities.
The children were on cloud nine, as were their parents and siblings; while SHALVA children enjoy their time at camp, their families enjoy an eight-day respite to vacation, rest and re-energize.
This year, SHALVA’s summer camp has taken on an especially important role due to the Jewish state’s security situation. The break is well-deserved, as parents of special-needs children have experienced weeks of intense worry and constant caring for their children. Moreover, a number of soldiers just released from service in Gaza joined the staff as camp counselors.
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