Grapevine: A passage from India

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

ZUBIN MEHTA, with his wife, Nancy, receives the golden key to the Hilton Tel Aviv.  (photo credit: AVIV HOFI)
ZUBIN MEHTA, with his wife, Nancy, receives the golden key to the Hilton Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: AVIV HOFI)
Coincidentally, the gala farewell hosted by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Foundation for maestro Zubin Mehta at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv took place only 15 hours ahead of the opening of an Indian art exhibition at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, as part of India’s worldwide tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, the anti-British nationalist and advocate of nonviolent resistance, on the 150th anniversary of his birth. The exhibition is within the context of the Jerusalem Biennale, and some of the artwork integrates Jewish and Hindu symbolism.
■ APPROXIMATELY 600 PEOPLE congregated in the ballroom of the Tel Aviv Hilton to tell the ailing and aging Mehta how much they love him. Among those seen in the crowd were Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and his wife, Revital; Yona Bartal of the Peres Center with her husband, Dudi; Rani and Hila Rahav; Sara and Michael Sela; Drorit and Yair Nitzani; Hannah and Gideon Hamburger; Yair and Ilana Hamburger; and Yehuda and Tami Raveh. Several of the overseas guests specially flew in for the occasion.
Video clips on the walls of the ballroom showed different stages of Mehta’s life from the time that he was a young man to the present. There were also video clips of retired members of the IPO recalling their initial meetings with him, his uncompromising demand for musical quality, and the unbridled affection between him and IPO musicians.
One veteran recalled having met the conductor’s father, Mehli Mehta, who was the conductor of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra, who said to him and other IPO members, “I have a very talented son. You will hear from him one day.” This was not just a prophecy, but a promise that came true.
Another veteran remembered the impact of Mehta conducting the IPO on tour when the orchestra first played “Hatikvah” in Germany half a kilometer away from the Reichstag. “There’s no way to forget that,” he said.
Another unforgettable performance was the concert conducted by Mehta in Metulla, alongside the Good Fence enabling people across the border to hear good music.
Mehta’s personal history in Israel is linked not only with the IPO but with the Tel Aviv Hilton, whose general manager, Ronnie Fortis, who is also country manager for Hilton Hotels, Israel, noted that since the very beginning, the hotel has been Mehta’s home away from home, with his own suite. Even though Mehta is retiring from the IPO, he will always be welcome at the Hilton, said Fortis, who presented the maestro with a symbolic gold key to the hotel, the design of which incorporated a harp.
In more than half a century of close association with the IPO, Mehta has created a legacy, a vision and a spirit, which will be carried on not only by his successor, Lahav Shani, who will officially take up his position as IPO music director at the start of the 2020-2021 season, but also by international businessman, philanthropist and entrepreneur Aaron Frenkel, who is chairman of the IPO’s Legacy, Vision and Spirit campaign, who recalled that Mehta had come to Israel by chance in 1961 to step in for Eugene Ormandy, who due to illness had been unable to fulfill his commitment. The orchestra played so well that Mehta was invited to return in 1963, and again in 1965.
Mehta “has given his heart and incredible talent to the IPO and to our country,” said Frenkel, adding that a special place is reserved for him in the local and international history of music. “Zubin has always stood by us at times of peace, war and friction, in difficult times and in good times – always with love, commitment and passion to the IPO and to the State of Israel.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Michael Zellermayer, chairman of the IPO Foundation, who underscored that Mehta was born in the same year as the IPO. When he himself became active with the IPO, said Zellermayer, he didn’t know much about music, and he learned a lot about musical appreciation from Mehta. This has greatly enriched him and his family. Zellermayer also paid tribute to Ruth Shitrit, who chaired the committee that organized the gala event, and whom he referred to as “a remarkable woman.”
Looking for a meaningful presentation to make to Mehta was a difficult challenge, Zellermayer acknowledged, because “it’s not easy to surprise him.” However, the problem was solved with the cooperation of the Israel Cricket Association. Like many Indians, Mehta is a keen cricket fan. In fact, his passion for cricket is almost equal to his passion for music. So the IPO Foundation and the association have created a Zubin Mehta cricket trophy to be presented to the winning team of every cricket season in Israel. The first trophy, in the form of a statuette of a cricketer, went to Mehta himself.
Following performances in various musical genres by a star-studded lineup that included the magnificent Ester Rada, who evokes memories of Lena Horne, it was Mehta’s turn to speak.
In acknowledging the accomplishments of the IPO and the State of Israel, he also mentioned the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Israel and India. One his great dreams had been to take the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to India, well before the exchange of ambassadors between the two countries.
When prime minister Menachem Begin came to New York, Mehta, together with Fredric Mann, who was one of the chief funders of the IPO in its early stages, and for whom the IPO concert hall was named before it became the Charles Bronfman Auditorium, called on Begin, together with ambassador to the US Simcha Dinitz. An enthusiastic Mehta told Begin what an impact it would make if the IPO visited India under the patronage of Israel’s prime minister. Begin listened patiently and then asked Mehta, “And who are you?” Chuckling at the memory, Mehta said that Dinitz had given Begin hell afterward.
Mehta eventually took the IPO to his beloved native city of Mumbai, which was Bombay at the time of his birth, but it took time. The IPO toured India during the 25th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic relations with Israel.
His great regret is that even though Israel has had a peace treaty with Egypt for 40 years, he has not been able to take the IPO to Cairo. Mehta said that he would like to see Arab musicians in the IPO, and is hopeful that such musicians would come from musical projects with which he is associated in Nazareth and at Tel Aviv University.
He also expressed his conviction that Shani would take the orchestra to even greater heights, and that he would be able to take it on tour to Arab countries. Mehta paid tribute to IPO founder Bronislaw Huberman, who he said gave three years of his career to form the orchestra and to pay for its expenses out of his own pocket. He also paid tribute to IPO secretary-general Avi Shoshani, who for 40 years, he said, “has been an inspiration.” Mehta thanked his wife, Nancy, for her constant support, “except when I’m watching cricket on television.”
■ ON FRIDAY, Dr. Ido Noy, content director of the Jerusalem Biennale, remarked on the symbolism in having the exhibition at the Begin Center, in that both Gandhi and Begin had been active in resisting British colonialism – Gandhi, the pacifist, through nonviolent action, and Begin, the militarist, through armed resistance.
Herzl Makov, the executive director of the Begin Center, commented that both India and Israel represented ancient countries that gained their independence at approximately the same time, but differed in size of territory and population.
Although Begin and Gandhi were at odds in their political outlooks, said Makov, when Begin learned of Gandhi’s death, he eulogized him as a great and fearless freedom fighter, who was willing to sacrifice himself for his convictions, and was the educator of the masses.
Muanpuii Saiawi, culture counselor at the Embassy of India, who together with her family has been stationed in Israel for a year and a half, said that when she first came, she went to Sde Boker to visit the hut of Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and had been moved to tears when she saw a portrait of Gandhi on the wall.
“Our India-Israel partnership has come a long way,” she said, listing water, agriculture, defense, hi-tech, innovation and the fight against terrorism as some of the areas of cooperation between the two countries. In order to showcase the works of leading Indian artists, she added, India will soon open an Indian Cultural Center in Israel.
Gargi Seth, founder and chief curator of the Indian Art Circle, was thrilled to be in Israel’s capital. “We put so much effort into this,” she said of the year she had spent curating the exhibition, which expresses the diversity of India and the sense of belonging based on Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. “I am glad to finally be here in Jerusalem,” she declared.
■ THERE WAS quite a large diplomatic turnout of ambassadors from countries that had once been part of the Soviet Union, at the farewell for popular Kazakhstan Ambassador Doulat Kuanyshev, who was informed by his president on September 30 that he was being relieved of his duties as ambassador to Israel and Cyprus. He is being succeed by Satybaldy Burshakov. The usually suave and debonair Kuanyshev was somewhat overcome by emotion as he made his farewell speech to shouts from the crowd of “We love you!” During his five years in Israel he has made many close friends not only among Kazakhstan expats and his diplomatic colleagues, he said, but also among members of Knesset who were present, and in other spheres. On the whole, he believes that he contributed to the strong relationship between Kazakhstan and Israel and is certain that Burshakov will continue in this vein.
The five years that he has spent in Israel have been among the happiest in his life, said Kuanyshev. This period included the marriage of his daughter. He is also proud of his embassy staff, to whom he attributed much of the embassy’s success. Quoting a Kazakhstan maxim, he said: “If you share goodness, it will multiply.” He has good feelings for everyone who came to his farewell, he said, and he wanted to share them.
Hennadii Nadolenko, the ambassador of Ukraine, who is also dean of the diplomatic corps, and who has been in Israel for eight and a half years, presented Kuanyshev with a silver tray as a memento of his service here. The silver tray presentation was initiated by a former dean of the diplomatic corps, Uruguayan former ambassador Jose Luis Pombo. Nadolenko commended Kuanyshev on the manner in which he had conducted his diplomatic mission, and said that he was pleased to be not only his colleague but his friend.
A more informal gift by way of a copper relief was presented to Kuanyshev as he circulated among his guests, and came face-to-face with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III.
■ AT THE farewell for Kuanyshev, Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski and his wife, Anna, received numerous congratulatory comments relating to Olga Tokarczuk, who has been named as the Nobel Prize laureate for literature. Part of Poland’s cultural elite, Tokarczuk is also persona non grata among the members of Poland’s Law and Justice ruling party. She has never hesitated to be critical of the wrongs she perceives in her country’s history and current policies. She was previously the first Polish winner of the prestigious Man Booker Prize and also of the Nike Award. In the latter case, she said in her acceptance speech that Poland needs to confront its history and rewrite it without hiding all the negatives.
Despite his government’s displeasure with Tokarczuk, Magierowski is pleased that someone scored yet another victory for his country, and said “I’m glad I’ve read one of her books.” The Municipality of Wroclaw apparently does not share the government’s view of Tokarczuk, and over last weekend provided free public transport for any passenger carrying a book authored by Tokarczuk.
■ NATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS of any country are also part of the DNA of its minority communities, even when there is friction between the minorities and the majority. That may explain some of the similarities between Poland and Israel, taking into account how many of the State of Israel’s founding fathers were either born or raised in Poland, even though their birth certificates or some historians may state otherwise, depending on changing conquests and borders. One thing that Israel and Poland have in common till this day is claiming famous expatriates as their own.
In Israel’s case there is the famous cartoonist Ranan Lurie, who has been a naturalized citizen of the United States since 1974. Both his parents were multi-generation Jerusalemites, but one of his grandfathers lived in Egypt, and at his invitation Lurie’s parents went to Port Said so that his first grandchild could be born in his home. When the infant was two weeks old, they returned to Tel Aviv, where they had made their home.
Another example is entertainment mogul and political activist Haim Saban, who is also known as an Israeli American even though he was born in Alexandria. But it was as an Israeli citizen that he went to America more than 30 years ago. Prizewinning actress Natalie Portman is yet another Israeli American who, though born in Israel, grew up in New York.
Of the 14 Poles who are listed as Nobel Prize laureates, all but three no longer live or lived in Poland, and the majority were Jewish. Most were citizens of the United States. Two were citizens of Israel, and the others were citizens of France, Switzerland and England, respectively.
They include Albert Michelson, Isidor Isaac Rabi, Tadeusz Reichstein, Andrew (Andzrej) Schally, Menachem Begin, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Roald Hoffman, Georges (Jerzy) Charpak, Shimon Peres, Jozef Rotblat and Leonid Hurwicz, whose prizes were awarded in the categories of physics, medicine, peace, literature chemistry and economics. There was also a Jewish connection in relation to poet, prose writer and essayist Czeslaw Milosz, who during the Second World War, together with his brother, served with the Polish resistance, and was instrumental in saving Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto from certain death.
Poland can be proud of the fact that the first woman to win a Nobel Prize was Marie Sklodowska Curie, who was chosen not once but twice, the first time for physics in 1903, and the second time for chemistry in 1911 – but she, too, was an expatriate living in France.
■ SUKKOT IN Israel is a time when many business enterprises with an international as well as a local clientele hold receptions, dinners and parties for their customers and friends. Jonathan Medved of OurCrowd has been hosting breakfast meetings for several years.
A number of property developers host social events as part of their marketing strategy at a time when so many tourists are in the country, and last Saturday night Jeffrey Mark, whose company specializes in interior decorating for residential and commercial premises, held a huge party in his Jerusalem boutique showroom to celebrate his three years of doing business in the capital. Mark has a much larger showroom in Cedarhurst, New York. Among some of his clients in Israel are Americans who own a second home here, and whose homes in the US he furnished, and whose interiors he may also have designed.
Guests were in various age groups and levels of affluence, and everyone went home with gifts. The first gift was a self-adhesive pocket patch to put on a cellphone, with sufficient room in the pocket for a couple of credit cards plus business cards. The second was a shopping bag filled with munchies for the sukkah.
The music was loud and cheerful, and waitresses circulated throughout the evening with trays of delicacies, in addition to which there were more edible choices on the buffet, plus a bar for alcoholic beverages and another for soft drinks.
The amusing thing was that there were signs here and there on some of the exquisite items on display with a diplomatically couched request: “Thank you for not sitting or placing anything on the furniture.” Needless to say, nearly every chair and settee was a repository for someone’s rear end. After all, with so many people on the premises and so many inviting options for seating – who could resist?
■ UNLIKE THE president and the prime minister, the chief rabbis do not necessarily have an official residence in Jerusalem. In the case of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, it would hardly be necessary, as he actually lives in Jerusalem. But Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau lives in Modi’in, where Wednesday evening he will open his sukkah at 10 Nahal Hever Street to members of the public from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Earlier in the day, Lau is to join Yosef and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz at the Western Wall for the ceremony of the blessing by the priests, and will receive the greetings of worshipers between 10:45 a.m. and 12 noon. The mood at the Western Wall will change from solemnity to one of unbridled merriment on Monday night, October 21, from 10 p.m. for “second hakafot” (dancing with the Torah) following the festival of Simhat Torah. The date also happens to be that of the 70th birthday of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
■ RABINOWITZ, BY the way, is on the short list of successors to Rabbi Aryeh Stern as Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem. Also on the short list is Rabbi Moshe Lau, the brother of the chief rabbi. Stern, who will celebrate his 75th birthday on November 22, must step down, due to his age. As a civil servant, he is supposed to retire at age 70, but has the option to continue for another five years if he so desires. Stern made one of his final public appearances as chief rabbi on Monday at the simhat beit hashoeva celebration at the Horev Yeshiva, together with Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion. He will make another appearance at the Shtiblach in Jerusalem’s Old Katamon on the morning of October 17, where he will be feted with a reception in his honor at 11 a.m.
■ TOURISTS TO Jerusalem are somewhat surprised to see how many construction cranes are lined up against the skyline of the city. In the final analysis, this may result in some impressive buildings, but meanwhile they are robbing the city of its beauty. More of the city’s beauty will be lost in the not-too-distant future as Eliezer Rochberger, who chairs the municipal planning and construction committee, has said in interviews with the Hebrew media that there will also be construction on green areas, which means that some of the capital’s parkland will be sacrificed to meet the needs of the growing population.
Hopefully there will be no emergency situations in Jerusalem tomorrow Thursday, when so many of the city’s major arteries will be closed to traffic till 6 p.m. due to the Jerusalem March. After that, there will be complete chaos as people try to exit the city to return to wherever they came from or, in the case of local Jerusalemites, will promptly get into their cars and cause congestion in all the streets that had been closed for the day.
■ IT’S TOUGH for governments of countries that pay pensions to senior citizens residing abroad to keep track of whether they are still living. Some require that expatriate recipients of pensions report at regular intervals to their consulates. This was not always convenient for French senior citizens or for the consulate, in that appointments had to fit in with the working hours of the consulate, which could not always handle the number of people who came on a daily basis in that time frame.
Now, according to a report in Yediot Yerushalayim, Shmuel Marciano, a Shas representative on the Jerusalem City Council, has received official approval from the French Consulate to confirm the continued existence of every French senior citizen living in Jerusalem and its immediate environs. As far as is known, this is the first time that such approval has been given in the Holy City, and will relieve the French Consulate of a great deal of pressure.
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