Grapevine: All the world loves a scandal

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN makes friends with a koala bear (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN makes friends with a koala bear
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Conventional wisdom has it that all the world loves a wedding; but even more than a wedding, all the world loves a scandal. For the past year or so, the Israeli media by and large have been drooling over the possibility that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz might become the next prime minister, replacing Benjamin Netanyahu, who has served even longer than founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion. But no sooner did the news break about Gantz’s failed former company allegedly not having played according to the rules than all the knives came out, not to mention snippets of fake news.
■ ICONOCLASTIC SATIRIST Tom Aharon outdid himself last week in his show Pa’am Beshavua (Once a Week) in which he proved that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
There is no more vulnerable glass house than the political arena, and although it has been stated that Gantz is not under investigation in the case of the Fifth Dimension, which is the name of his former company, its conduct was certainly not above reproach. Gantz’s own involvement, while possibly kosher, still smells.
To prove that, Aharon featured part of an interview that Gantz gave to Dana Weiss on Channel 12, in which he kept contradicting himself and getting into deeper water as he went along. Aharon wanted to show that corruption is a two-way street, and that whoever keeps pointing an accusatory finger at someone else should be aware that corruption, however unintended or well-concealed, has a habit of rising to the surface. According to Aharon, Gantz’s convoluted denial of any wrongdoing sounded almost like an echo of “There won’t be anything because there isn’t anything.”
Meanwhile, Gantz has more than once declared that if elected and indicted, he would step down. All we can do is quote the favorite expression of US President Donald Trump: “We’ll see what happens.”
■ SAUDI ARABIA has become a favored destination for the Jewish traveler. Hot on the heels of a visit to the kingdom by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations is that of an interfaith group that includes British-born Rabbi David Rosen of Jerusalem. Before heading for Riyadh, Rosen was in Vienna for a meeting of the Muslim-Jewish Leadership Council, and prior to that he was in Poland where, with the leadership of the American Jewish Committee, he accompanied a delegation of top-level Muslim spiritual leaders to Auschwitz. At his meeting with King Salman, Rosen sat with people of different faiths who are fellow members of the board of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Dialogue, which promotes dialogue around the globe with the aim of preventing or resolving conflicts and enhancing understanding and cooperation with the aim of achieving peace. Rosen is also familiar to the Vatican, which years ago made him a papal knight.
■ IN AN era in which the hallmark is largely intolerance of the other, the Simon Marks Jewish Primary School in London stands out like a beacon of light, so much so that it attracted the attention of The Guardian, a left-leaning British newspaper, whose writers are not always well disposed toward Israel or the Jewish people. But the article by Harriet Sherwood was so endearing that the powers that be at The Observer magazine section of The Guardian decided that it must be published.
The school is Orthodox, but its teachers and its 117 pupils are people of all faiths. Studies are taught in accordance with the regular British school curriculum plus two hours of Jewish studies each week, and pupils are taken on school outings to various houses of worship such as a mosque and a Buddhist temple. All the boys wear kippot, the girls wear modest dresses, and the food served is kosher. Some of the non-Jewish children have a fondness for Jewish holidays.
“If you teach non-Jewish children about the Jewish faith, they’re likely to have a positive attitude later in life,” head teacher Gulcan Metin-Asdoyuran – who is from a Turkish Muslim background – told Sherwood.
The full story can be accessed online, and it makes for a heartwarming read.
■ SUNDAY IS not a general working day in Australia, so President Reuven, Rivlin went to the Taronga Zoo in New South Wales, where animals injured in Australia’s horrific bushfires are being treated at the zoo’s wildlife hospital, which cares for some 1,400 animals each year and returns them to their natural habitat. Rivlin got to see some of the animal patients, such as a platypus, wallabies, kangaroos and even a koala bear, with which he gingerly tried to make friends.
Koalas are marsupials – not really bears at all, but the first white settlers who came to the southern continent, in 1788, didn’t know the difference, other than size, between these cute little indigenous animals and big bears. As cute and cuddly as the koala looks, it can be very aggressive and quite vicious. Its bite can do a lot of damage. However, koalas rescued from the Australian bushfires seem to have taken on gentler characteristics.
For Rivlin, who stopped off in Fiji en route to Australia, much of his visit has been delightfully informal, although there was a degree of formality when he rang the bell at the Australian Securities Exchange in Sydney to start the day’s trading on Tuesday, which according to Jewish tradition, is the luckiest day in the week.
He really got into the spirit of things in Fiji, where he and President Jioji Konrote and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama wore identical casual blue shirts in an ethnic print at a state dinner hosted in his honor by Konrote and attended by representatives of various Pacific island states who had come to Fiji for a Pacific summit. At the dinner, Rivlin stood with his hosts and watched a performance by traditional, grass-skirted Polynesian dancers.
■ NOW THAT Australia has been included in the list of countries from which travelers entering Israel must be quarantined, some people are wondering whether this also applies to Rivlin. If it does, the president will not be able to leave his residence in order to vote. Unless the members of his regular security detail spends their quarantine period at the President’s Residence, he will need a new security team, which cannot really get as close to him as the rules demand. However, if his regular team and his staff are all stuck at the President’s Residence, in observance of quarantine regulations, a polling station presumably will be set up there as well.
■ SEVERAL POLITICAL pundits would have us believe that the Israeli public is apathetic about the upcoming elections because it thinks that very little will change in terms of results, and if that’s the case, why bother? Of course, the why bother element could be the essential difference between winners and losers, or conversely may be the very reason that whoever wins will be unable to form a government. Journalists covering political rallies report that, in most cases, there are fewer people than in the past, unless the rally is tied to something else, as was the case with the Friends of Tel Aviv University association, which held a preelection event with a slightly different twist.
TAU president Prof. Ariel Porat, president of the association Amnon Dick and CEO Adi Olmert invited the association’s academic business club to come to listen to Ayelet Shaked, Nitzan Horowitz, Gabi Ashkenazi, Avigdor Liberman and Gideon Sa’ar, who were interviewed by veteran Maariv journalist Ben Caspit together with Arie Eldad, both of whom can be heard regularly on FM 103.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a debate such as the ones held in the US. Each of the politicians spoke separately, one after the other. None were strangers to the audience, having spoken to them previously in different capacities, and three are actually TAU alumni. Shaked has a software engineering degree from TAU, and Sa’ar and Horowitz, though politically polarized, are both TAU law graduates.
One of the questions that each of the politicians was asked was what they planned to be doing on March 3. Liberman said he wrote in his diary that he plans to have a long sleep. Sa’ar said that he will take his wife to dinner.
Among those present were Liora Ofer, Etty and Gabi Rotter, David Furrer, Sami Sagol, Gabi Last, Marius Nacht and Prof. Jacob Frenkel.
■ THERE CAN always be surprises in politics. At this stage, the only thing that is certain is that regardless of which party gets the most votes, the first name of the leader of the winning party will be Benjamin.
■ IT’S THAT time of year again with Tel Aviv Fashion Week on the horizon in mid-March. The gala opening on Monday, March 16, at Hangar 11, at Tel Aviv Port, will feature the creations of couture designer Efrat Kalig, 50 of whose clients will model her high-end evening and bridal gowns.
The special runway show, aimed at eliminating stereotyped images of the ideal woman, is in line with the philosophy of Motty Reif, who is the producer of Fashion Week, and who revived it in 2011 after a long hiatus.
In the 1980s, Israel Fashion Week was one of the most glamorous events in the country. Held in luxury hotels in which there were private and public fashion shows for scores of international buyers, it was a wonderful showcase for Israel’s fashion creativity. When Fashion Week, with updated ideas, was reintroduced by Reif, it was enthusiastically received by fashion writers from around the world. It is now a fixture on the Tel Aviv calendar.
Reif, who is himself a former model, felt that promoting the stereotype reed-slim fashion model was unfair to women who were somewhat more endowed, and he chose models of different shapes, sizes, ages and ethnic backgrounds. Thus, nearly all the women in the audience can find someone on the runway with whom they can identify.
Among the well-known personalities who will be modeling Kalig’s designs at the opening gala will be Dikla, Leah Schnirer, Noam Frost, Rona-Lee Shimon, Saga Sagit Revivo, Efrat Rotem, Michal Weizman (better known as Michal Haktana – Little Michal), Romi Nest, Ira Dolfin and Galit Gutman.
Trained in New York at the Parsons School of Design, Kalig has worked with legendary fashion icons such as John Galliano and Jean-Louis Scherrer. She also worked at the Wax Museum in Paris and opened her own haute couture salon in the heart of the city’s main quarter, where the total environment is chic.
All in all, Tel Aviv Fashion Week will run from March 16 to 19 inclusive, and will feature a total of 29 fashion shows.
■ JERUSALEM-BORN expatriate iconic fashion designer Elie Tahari was one of the recipients this week of awards conferred by the American Sephardi Federation at its New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival. Tahari received the Pomegranate Lifetime Achievement Award for Fashion Design.
He has been living in New York for more than half his lifetime. He arrived there penniless in 1973 and initially worked in the garment district, changing light bulbs. He is a self-taught fashion designer and manufacturer. These days, he’s a multimillionaire. Other Pomegranate Awards were given to filmmakers Élie Chouraqui, who received the Ronit Elkabetz Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement on Stage and Screen, and Keren Yedaya, winner of the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The fourth recipient was actor Dan Hedaya.
■ MEMBERS OF some of Israel’s leading law firms responded favorably to a proposal by Israel Bar Association chairman Avi Himi that they sign a declaration affirming their belief that women lawyers should earn as much as their male counterparts. The signing ceremony, at Beit Hapraklit (Lawyer’s House), took place in the presence of Himi; Justice Varda Wirth Livne, president of the National Labor Court; Deputy Attorney-General Orit Kotev; Na’amat chairwoman Hagit Pe’er and several other prominent figures. This is an issue that women have been advocating for years, but it took a man to do something positive about it.
■ NATION-STATE Basic Law notwithstanding, Rafik Halabi, the mayor of Daliat al-Carmel, was thrilled when informed by El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin that the company, which had just taken delivery of its 15th Dreamliner plane, planned to name it Daliat al-Carmel. What better proof could there be of the esteem in which Israel holds its Druze community? A happy Halabi and members of his municipal council joined El Al officials on board the plane for the naming ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Daliat al-Carmel now has an honored sign on a plane in the fleet of the national carrier, which Halabi said would help to strengthen the ties between the Druze community and the rest of Israel. Usishkin said that it’s exciting to receive every new plane, but particularly so on this occasion when El Al was able to pay its respects to the Druze community.
■ ACCORDING to the old adage, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Actually, the way to anyone’s heart, regardless of gender or status, is through their stomach. This was obvious at an Israeli food fest hosted by Naor Gilon, Israel’s ambassador to the Netherlands, who invited some 30 of his fellow diplomats to come to sample Israeli street food prepared by chef Asaf Shinar, who is currently touring Europe under the auspices of the World Zionist Organization.
Working together with Israel embassies, Shinar is conducting culinary workshops and introducing some of Israel’s favorite foods to diplomatic communities throughout Europe – and the interest is very keen. Curiously, no one seems to mind that the alcoholic beverages are from the Golan Heights Winery.
■ SO MANY things change in a relatively short span of time that “out of sight, out of mind” becomes more than a cliché. It’s a sad reality. People not seen are quickly forgotten. But in the case of those who once had a claim to fame, there’s almost always someone who, for whatever reason, wants to remind the public of that person’s existence, regardless of whether the person in question is alive or dead.
Thus, almost 10-and-a-half years after the death of television and stage star Dudu Topaz, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit a violent crime, and who committed suicide while in prison, journalist Haim Etgar produced a two-part documentary on the rise and fall of Dudu Topaz, which was shown on Channel 12, received flattering reviews and prompted high ratings.
For whatever reason, Topaz’s three sons, Daniel, Omer and Jonathan, were not interviewed for this production, even though all three are now adults. Although much has been written about Topaz, who at the peak of his career was Israel’s top television celebrity, most of what was shown on screen was previously unknown to his sons. Though each was born to a different mother, Topaz bonded with them as a family and maintained a friendly relationship with their mothers. Thus the Topaz brothers enjoy close ties and, after the first episode of the documentary was shown, posted on social media that this was not the Dudu Topaz they knew. Their Topaz was a little weird but a great entertainer and a loving and doting father.
The big question is: was it necessary, after more than a decade, to show a documentary that would be hurtful to the Topaz brothers and to their uncle Mickey Goldenberg, who was their father’s brother? What purpose did it serve other than to warn that all the mighty can fall? Even if that was the reason for making the documentary, none of the mighty would believe that it applies to them – until it happens.
■ BRITAIN’S JEWISH and general media are agog with the fact that celebrity fashion model and actress Lady Kitty Spencer is converting to Judaism prior to her marriage to South African-born fashion tycoon Michael Lewis, who is old enough to be her father.
Lewis married his first wife, Leola, with whom he has three adult children, in 1985, long before Spencer was born. Lewis and his family are philanthropically minded and in 2011 donated £3 million to Oxford University to fund the appointment of a professor of Israel studies.
The Spencer family is descended from the Earl of Marlborough, as was Winston Churchill. Lady Kitty’s father, Charles, the ninth Earl Spencer, is the brother of Princess Diana.
Although Lewis may be the first full Jew marrying into the royal family, he will not be the first person with a Jewish bloodline to do so. Edwina Mountbatten, the countess of Burma, was married to Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was an uncle to Prince Phillip and who was also related to Queen Elizabeth. Both the queen and her husband are great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria. Edwina was the granddaughter of Sir Ernest Cassel, a German-born British banker who was the scion of an Orthodox Jewish family from Cologne. He converted to Catholicism at the request of his wife.
Meanwhile, the past 12 months have been somewhat turbulent for the queen. Just after Prince Harry moved to Canada, the queen’s eldest grandchild and her nephew each announced that they were getting amicably divorced. Divorce is, after all, nothing new in the royal family. Three of the queen’s four children were divorced, and so was her late sister. On top of all that was the scandal of Prince Andrew’s friendship and business relationship with the late Jeffrey Epstein, the pimp of pedophilia, who allegedly supplied him with underage companions.
■ AMONG THE proudest moments for Holocaust survivors in Israel is when they see a grandson or a granddaughter wearing the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces. Even people who are not Israelis, and who managed to escape the Holocaust just in time, get emotional over the sight of young Jewish men and women in the uniform of the Israeli army. One such person is 93-year-old Irving Bienstock, a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, who earlier this month realized his dream of visiting an IDF military base, when he got to tour the Yarden Camp on the Golan Heights. His dream come true was facilitated by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) and members of his local community, headed by Dana Kapustin.
Bienstock and his family escaped Germany in January 1939 and arrived in the United States in April 1940. Five years later, in April 1945, he returned to war-scarred Europe – this time as an American soldier on the USS Wakefield. Since the founding of the State of Israel, Bienstock has cherished a desire to visit active members of the Israeli military on an IDF base.
“I grew up as a Jewish boy in Nazi Germany, and when I saw a policeman or soldier, I would turn and run the other way,” he said. “I was proud to spend two years in the US Army at the end of the war, but I was still a Jew in a foreign army. This is my last chance to see my army. Today, to see a Jew in uniform serving the Jewish state is a victory, and it feels we have come such a long way.”
During the visit to the base, Bienstock and the other participants, including several of his friends and members of the local Charlotte Jewish community, met with members of Yarden Camp’s Eagle Battalion of the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps, which serves as Israel’s eyes on Syria. Bienstock presented a short movie about his life to the battalion and spoke to the soldiers about his story and concerns over rising antisemitism in today’s world.
Bienstock even spoke in German to one of the soldiers, Cpl. Shawn, who is originally from Germany and currently serves as a lone soldier in the Eagle Battalion. He has no immediate family in Israel. The Combat Intelligence Collection Corps was adopted by the FIDF Southeast Region as part of the FIDF’s Adopt a Brigade program. It gets people involved at a more personal level.
In addition to its regular donations, FIDF’s involvement increases by providing financial assistance to soldiers in need, caring for lone soldiers with no immediate family in Israel, and funding rest and recuperation breaks for combat brigades. Program supporters can visit the soldiers in their adopted units on IDF bases and communicate with unit commanders. In 2019, FIDF supporters formed unbreakable bonds with the soldiers of 10 brigades and 75 battalions, squadrons, and flotillas.