Grapevine December 29, 2019: Digital panhandling

On the day prior to the deadline, more than 730 people had donated a total of $59,000 to “help fight the occupation,” which Galon termed “Israel’s gravest issue of human rights violations.”

The International Criminal Court in The Hague (photo credit: REUTERS)
The International Criminal Court in The Hague
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Anyone with a digital device that receives email knows that at this time of the year there is a flood of requests for financial contributions for umpteen charitable, religious or political causes, as well as for the sustenance of a number of online news outlets which exist primarily through crowd-funding and could collapse without donations.
Joining the throng this year was former MK and Meretz chair Zahava Galon who was appealing on behalf of B’Tselem, the watchdog organization that monitors and reports on human rights violations against Palestinians. Actually, she wasn’t asking for much. B’Tselem needed to raise a total of $70,000 (approximately NIS 250,000) by Thursday of last week in order to receive a matching sum from a group of unnamed donors.
On the day prior to the deadline, more than 730 people had donated a total of $59,000 to “help fight the occupation,” which Galon termed “Israel’s gravest issue of human rights violations.” For loyal Israelis who also pride themselves on upholding human rights, this is a very tough call.
On the one hand, they are in accord with the bulk of Israel, which is appalled by the fact that Israel has been singled out by the International Criminal Court when there are other countries in the region in which far greater violations are committed with impunity. On the other, they want to see Palestinians living in freedom from fear and persecution and in charge of their own destinies.
“B’Tselem has voiced the moral argument and stressed Israel’s obligations under international law, but the Israeli government has chosen to promote the opposite policy. Instead of listening to B’Tselem, our government chose to incite against the organization and its supporters,” wrote Galon.
■ THE MOST common problem confronting anyone in Israel with guests from overseas is where to take them for dinner. Israeli cuisine is now so cosmopolitan that in areas in which many restaurants are situated in close proximity to each other, it almost pays to eat each course in a different venue so as to sample the culinary creativity of several chefs during the one meal. This would certainly be possible in Jerusalem’s colorful Mahaneh Yehuda market where eateries abound in most of the alleyways as well as in the major strips, with just as many restaurants, coffee shops and cocktail bars on the two main streets that border the market – Jaffa on one side and Agripas on the other.
Choices in this locale would be mind-blowing for anyone, but more so for a representative of the Government Press Office who wants to show visitors the best of what there is in the capital. This was the challenge faced by Vered Kopolovich, a senior staff member of the GPO who wanted to show visitors from New York Amit Boyarski and Daniela Goldinger something of the pulse of Jerusalem. The couple, who were Kopolovich’s guests, came to spend Hanukkah in Israel’s capital, and naturally Mahaneh Yehuda with its incredible population mix, its high-quality assortment of fruits and vegetables, its many stores selling countless varieties of merchandise and the tempting food aromas drifting out of the different eateries, was on the itinerary.
In Boyarski’s case, this was particularly important. Although he lives in New York, where he works as a senior programmer for Google, he is formerly from Tel Aviv, and in many respects Mahaneh Yehuda is much more colorful and appealing than Carmel Market.
Goldinger works in a high-ranking position at a capital management company. Most of the eateries inside the market are small and cramped, a factor that actually contributes to their unique ambience, but it also means that more often than not they are crowded with little or no room in which to sit. So Kopolovich opted for a spacious, highly reputed Jaffa Road establishment – Hamotzi, which is run by Avi Levy, a former winner of the Master Chef competition.
Aside from being widely recognized as a superb chef, Levy has an interesting personal story about social rehabilitation. Before entering the Master Chef contest in 2011, most of Levy’s cooking experience was behind bars. He’d spent close to a decade in prison, where he was occasionally on kitchen duty. He was charged with involvement in drug-related crimes.
His Master Chef triumph in 2011 did much to help Levy turn over a new leaf, and a year later he opened a small restaurant which quickly became so popular that it outgrew the premises and had to move to its present location.
Levy owes much of his success to his mother, from whom he learned to cook, and she has her own corner in the restaurant where she prepares her delicious North African dishes. Sometimes, while she’s peeling or cutting vegetables, she sits in front of one of the full-length glass windows facing the street. Aside from giving her a view of what’s going on, it’s a great marketing ploy because it excites the curiosity of passersby.
Boyarski and Goldinger thoroughly enjoyed the unique décor, not to mention their palate-pleasing dinner. The whole experience, enhanced by Levy’s conversation, gave them a great memory to take back to New York.
■ ALTHOUGH HE has spent most of his life in Tel Aviv, New York-born Eytan Schwartz still speaks English with an American accent. An expert in public relations and communications, the multi-talented Schwartz, who for several years served as CEO of Tel Aviv Global, has also been an actor, singer, journalist and unofficial spokesman for Israel in his capacity as the winner of a public diplomacy contest.
He first came to the attention of the wider public in 2004 when he competed in and won the intriguing reality show The Ambassador, coming in ahead of 14 other contenders. The contest, which was the brainchild of American philanthropist Joey Low, the founder in 2002 of Israel at Heart, took Schwartz back to New York to work for the organization, which operates independently of the government of Israel and of any Jewish organization.
After returning to Tel Aviv, Schwartz began working for the Tel Aviv Municipality as CEO of Tel Aviv Global & Tourism, a municipal company that branded Tel Aviv and promotes it in line with a policy of economic growth and ever-increasing tourism. Schwartz was this month named head of the municipality’s marketing and communications unit, succeeding Gidi Shmerling who stepped down after being in that position for eight years. Shmerling was also chief municipal spokesman, and was previously part of the spokesman’s team in the Prime Minister’s Office. Before that he was spokesman for the Jerusalem Municipality.
Schwartz’s family migrated from the Big Apple to the Big Orange when he was seven years old. Aside from returning to the city of his birth to work for Israel at Heart, Schwartz also earned a BA degree in anthropology at Columbia University, graduating summa cum laude
■ FOR YEARS now, there has been an ongoing debate about whether or not to take student delegations to Poland. Although many such trips have in the past been subsidized by the Education Ministry, due to the political situation, the Knesset is unable to pass a budget, which means that every ministry is hurting, though the Finance Ministry does make a few exceptions in matters of extreme urgency.
One of the reasons for objections in Israel is that not all parents can afford to pay their share for a trip to Poland by their high school son or daughter, and therefore there are youngsters who miss out solely due to financial considerations.
From the Polish side, while the Poles may be appreciative of whatever money they earn from the many trips by Jewish youths from Israel and elsewhere in the world, they are very unhappy that such trips are largely confined to Holocaust remembrance and do not present sufficient exposure to the Poland of today, which is free of both German and Russian occupation and in which Jewish life is once more flourishing, albeit not to the extent of pre-World War Two.
Disputes and resurgent antisemitism all over Europe, including Poland, have not led to a decrease in the number of student delegations traveling to Poland. To the contrary, there has been an increase, which prompted The “Israel Experience,” a subsidiary of the Jewish Agency, to open an office in Warsaw. The Israel Experience – one of the leading companies specializing in educational group travel, and also one of the largest franchises of student delegations to Poland – recently opened new offices in Warsaw. The decision to do so was taken while a cartel trial is being held against four other companies that have allegedly monopolized the market for group trips to Poland.
The opening of the Warsaw office was celebrated with a large-scale reception at the Warsaw Hilton attended by Israel Experience CEO Amos Herman and many representatives of Jewish organizations and institutions in Poland as well as those of the tourist and hotel industries.
The Warsaw office, located in the downtown district, will handle all Israel Experience trips to Poland, and will serve as a liaison to Polish officialdom and to the local community. It will deal with all contacts, content and logistics.
Currently, some 7,500 students, most of them from Israel and some from the Diaspora, participate in the Israel Experience program annually. Altogether, some 40,000 Israeli students go to Poland each year.
Since winning the bid conducted by the Education Ministry two years ago, the revenue from Israel Experience trips to Poland has been in the realm of close to US $7.5 Million. It is anticipated with an office in Warsaw, and more participants from elsewhere in Europe, that the annual number of participants will rise to 10,000.