Grapevine: Full flower

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

(photo credit: ILAN BESOR)

■ MANY OF Israel’s entertainers in their 70s and 80s are getting their second wind, and are singing or playing to audiences in which a large percentage of the attendees are young enough to be their children or grandchildren. 

One of the busiest of these energetic seniors is Jerusalem-born Yehoram Gaon, who in addition to being a singer, actor, author and radio and TV host, also served as deputy mayor of the city, holding the Cultural Affairs and Education for youngsters with Special Needs portfolios from 1993 to 2002. 

This year, he was rumored to be running for president, but did not formally submit his candidacy. He has been active in numerous civic organizations, including amongst others the Association for the Welfare of Israel’s Soldiers, the Association for Autistic Children, the Hebrew Language Academy and the advancement of Ladino. He and his late brother Benny established the Moshe David Gaon Center for Ladino Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Gaon’s schedule included two concerts in Jerusalem – one at Zappa and the other at the Jerusalem Theater. Both were sellouts. 

Despite Gaon’s popularity in Jerusalem, it is the Haifa Municipality, which at the end of August named a street for him which is appropriately located in the Arik Einstein neighborhood. Contrary to general practice, Haifa Mayor Einat Kalish Rotem likes to name streets after living people, and before honoring Gaon in this manner, she honored singer Yardena Arazi, who was born on kibbutz, but who at age two moved to Haifa with her parents. In an interview on Reshet Bet, Gaon said that it was nice to have a street named after him that he could walk in and enjoy while he was still living. He thinks that it’s more appropriate to name streets or buildings after living rather than deceased people so they can appreciate the honor given to them. 

■ A LITTLE over a month ago the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens announced the launch of a nationwide campaign to save the wildflowers. In fact, the campaign started some three years ago, but because the late Nechama Rivlin, the wife of 10th president Reuven Rivlin, was such an enthusiastic supporter of the campaign, it was recently named in her memory. The campaign is in response to the acute danger of wildflowers becoming extinct as increasing real estate projects dominate space where there were once sprawling fields. The Jerusalem Botanical Garden has the country’s largest collection of living plants, with literally thousands of species and varieties of species from the Middle East and around the world. It is to the credit of the Botanical Garden’s horticultural researchers that plants from different climatic zones can be cultivated in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the country.

But what is really important as far as the campaign is that Israel’s wildflowers should not disappear. With the aid of volunteers, seeds of some 30 species have been packaged, and are being distributed for people to plant in their own gardens or in balcony pots. After it was announced that Reuven Rivlin had joined the campaign, planting seeds in flowerpots on his own balcony, many well-known figures from Israel’s entertainment and fashion industries also joined the campaign. Among them are actors and comedians Zvika Hadar and Tal Fridman, actors Kobi Maor and Dvir Benedek, stand-up comedian Avi Nussbaum fashion stylist and television hostess Sandra Ringler, actress and model Mali Levi and model Yael Goldman. There are many others who have also signed up.

Botanical gardens CEO Tom Amit recalled that Nechama Rivlin not only loved nature with all her heart, but initiated many projects in community gardens and in the gardens of the President’s Residence. It was only natural to name the campaign in her memory.

 RICHMOND BOAKYE (center) celebrates with his Beitar Jerusalem teammates after scoring his side’s second goal in the 55th minute of the yellow-and-black’s 3-0 victory over city rival Hapoel Jerusalem in Monday’s night’s derby at Teddy Stadium (credit: BERNEY ARDOV) RICHMOND BOAKYE (center) celebrates with his Beitar Jerusalem teammates after scoring his side’s second goal in the 55th minute of the yellow-and-black’s 3-0 victory over city rival Hapoel Jerusalem in Monday’s night’s derby at Teddy Stadium (credit: BERNEY ARDOV)

■ ARE THE days of the Beitar soccer team numbered? That’s the question that Beitar fans should be asking themselves after hi-tech entrepreneur and crypto-currency trader Moshe Hogeg decided to throw in the towel and turn his back on the Beitar Football Club, which he purchased from Eli Tabib in August 2018. 

Beitar has a turbulent history of fiscal mismanagement, heavy debts, bankruptcy and worst of all, virulent racism promoted by a group of fans known as La Familia.

After sinking millions of shekels into the club and doing his best to fight racism and being subjected to vulgar insults instead of appreciation, Hogeg, in consultation with his family, decided over Rosh Hashana to call it quits.

Though one of the best-known of Israel’s soccer teams, Beitar, as far as is known, is the only team that has never had an Arab player, and when one of its former owners, Arcadi Gaydamak, signed on four Muslim players who were not Arab, La Familia made their lives a misery and they didn’t last long.

Founded well before the establishment of the state, Beitar has been plagued over the past three decades by financial crises, leading to massive debts and bankruptcy. A series of wealthy owners that included Gad Zeevi, a group comprising Meir Panijel, Meir and Shaul Levi and Sasson Shem Tov; Gaydamak, Tabib, and most recently Hogeg, all came to the club with the best of intentions, as did the late eccentric tycoon Guma Aguiar, who in 2009, invested more than $4 million in the club, but was never the owner.

But La Familia kept spoiling things for everyone. Even though Gaydamak was exceedingly generous with the budget, they turned against him when as a goodwill gesture, he donated $400,000 to the Arab team Bnei Sakhnin. On the rare occasions that Beitar had to play against Bnei Sakhnin, the insults hurled by La Familia and some of their cohorts were fast and furious – and very loud – sometimes resulting in such games being played in a stadium devoid of spectators.

At one stage, Hogeg entered into a multi-million dollar co-ownership deal with UAE’s Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, but due to a series of complications, not the least of which included racism, it fell through.

Nonetheless, Hogeg persevered with the club, despite being booed at every game, and having to put up with curses against his wife and children.

In announcing his decision to distance himself from Beitar, effective immediately, Hogeg said that despite the huge sums of money that he had invested in the club, he had never asked for a medal or even a small token of appreciation. But he felt that as the owner, he was entitled to respect – which he never received. Instead, he and his family were subjected to insults and curses.

Hogeg has appointed attorney Itzhak Yunger as a temporary trustee of the club until a new buyer is found.

Given what all the above-mentioned owners have endured at the hands or rather raucous voices of La Familia, it is doubtful that anyone other than a naïve idealist or someone who needs to launder some ill-gotten gains would want to become the owner of Beitar Jerusalem.

If the team should disintegrate, it will not be the fault of any of its owners. The blame will rest wholly and solely with La Familia.

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