Newsmakers who are invited to address the Foreign Press Association in Israel are usually diplomats, politicians, senior army officers or high ranking public servants. Entertainers are a rarity if invited to speak at all. Then again, it’s been a long time since Israel last hosted the Eurovision, and the person who is responsible for bringing Eurovision to Israel is Netta Barzilai who did more than simply win an international song contest. She also conveyed the global message that there’s no need to be embarrassed or ashamed just because you’re not exactly mainstream. Just be yourself. And she certainly has been her somewhat eccentric self, which earned her many fans worldwide. Just a couple of weeks ahead of this year’s Eurovision, Barzilai will tell members of the FPA about her momentous year as the Eurovision champion, how she has been spreading her message of tolerance and inclusion, and will share her thoughts about this year’s Eurovision contest in Tel Aviv.
■ ON THE subject of inclusion, regardless of the obstacles confronting gay men in Israel who want to be daddies, those who are really keen are finding surrogate mothers abroad. Labor MK Itzik Shmuli and his partner recently welcomed a bouncy baby boy, and singer Ivri Lider, who after a long debate with himself, decided to find a surrogate mother in the United States. Last week he posted the results of her ultrasound on his Instagram account. He still has to wait a few months to welcome his son, but he cannot understand why he has to be so geographically far away from “the wonderful woman” who is carrying his baby. He would like to be physically close so as to be there to experience the joy of the baby’s development in the womb, instead of relying on long-distance ultrasound images. It really isn’t fair that lesbians in Israel can have a sperm donor baby from someone with whom they have absolutely no contact, or if they choose, they can find a donor who is interested in the birth and may even accept some responsibility for the child’s welfare.
But gay men who want to become fathers have to go beyond Israel’s borders, and then have to fight to have the baby converted to Judaism. Labor MK Michal Biran found an ideal solution that is not available to everyone. She hooked up with a gay man who is looking to be a father. She is carrying his baby, and they will both be parents to the child. Of course there are a lot of heterosexual single mothers whose children were born via sperm donations, but they seldom know the identity of the donor, and in most cases the donor does not want to know anything about the baby. But in cases where donors do want to know, especially those donors who are gay and cannot afford the expenditure involved in making arrangements for a surrogate mother abroad, there ought to be some kind of matching service whereby they get to know the mother of their child and make arrangements for joint custody, or at least accepting responsibility for the child in the event that the mother develops a serious illness or dies.
■ THE WOLF Foundation, which encourages and rewards scholastic excellence, last week awarded its Krill Prizes for Excellence in Scientific Research. The total value of the prizes, which are awarded annually, is $100,000. The areas of research are exact sciences, life sciences, medicine, agriculture and engineering. The prizes are awarded to excelling faculty members at universities in Israel who hold the nontenured positions of lecturer or senior lecturer.
Recipients are selected by the Wolf Foundation Scholarship Committee from outstanding candidates, submitted by all universities. The selection is made on the basis of the candidate’s excellence and the importance of his or her field of research.
Wolf Foundation CEO Reut Inon Berman commented: “Right before the elections to the Knesset, we again see the importance of investment in Israeli academic research and the enormous potential of the researchers in Israel. We have so much to be proud of and, yet, I hope one day we will see an expression of this in the parties’ agendas.”
Chairman of the Krill Prize Committee Hagai Netzer noted: “Krill Prize laureates are part of a chosen group of young scientists who will lead the direction of the 21st century in the field of science. The prize, on one hand, reflects their great achievements and on the other hand, puts a great responsibility on their shoulders.”
■ MODI’IN-BASED photographer Debbie Zimelman, who is originally from the US and has been living in Israel for 30 years, chose a very controversial subject for her most recent book – Women on the Front Lines – Inside the Combat Units of the Israeli Army. It’s a strange phenomenon that the more that certain rabbis speak against women joining the army at all, let alone opting for combat units, the more Orthodox young women join the army and ask to be able to serve in combat units.
It’s not all that long ago that women were permitted to serve in combat units. Zimelman is launching her book in Mod’in on Monday evening, April 8. She will talk about what motivated her, and will share some of the experiences she had during the year and a half in which she worked on the project.
Some of the subjects who she caught in the lens of her camera will be present and two of them will be interviewed.
Zimelman, who has photographed extensively for publications in Israel and abroad, says the book is a milestone in her career.
■ THE JUDICIAL system does not give sufficient consideration to victims of sexual assault and harassment, says Orit Sulitzeanu, director-general of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, but she does credit the legislature with being sufficiently aware and concerned to enact laws designed to protect women and prosecute those who attack them. The association is running a series of seminars and lectures on the subject. The upcoming seminar on April 16 is dedicated to the procedures that should be taken by rape victims or those who have been subjected to any other form of sexual assault. The seminar starts at 9 a.m. and will be held in Building 4 (daleth), Room 262 on the Academic Campus of the College of Management Academic Studies.
■ THE VALUE that Jews place on education can be seen in the number of foundations organizations and individual philanthropists that are dedicated to providing the best possible education facilities and environment for Israeli students.
JNF-USA is now undertaking an extremely ambitious project to create an education village for the purpose of better connecting Israel with the global community.
JNF-USA has projects in many parts of Israel, but its main focus has been on helping to develop the south of the country.
The education village will be located in rapidly developing Beersheba. In order to pay for the cost, JNF-USA has a launched a mega-gift $300 million fund-raising drive headed by Chicago native and leading philanthropist Richard Wexler.
The new JNF Israel Education and Technology Center is being designed as a state-of-the-art facility offering dormitory buildings, 100 apartments, a dining hall, restaurant, cafes, a synagogue, conference center, classrooms and community and leisure rooms.
It will provide three separate centers within the village: a Zionist education center for 200 adults at a time to study, live and connect with Israelis and Jews from across the globe; a technology center offering 100 college and post-college students one- to two-year-long internships in Beersheba, where more than 60 global hi-tech and cyber companies have opened operations; and the southern campus of the Alexander Muss High School based in Hod Hasharon, which annually educates some 1,500 students in its college-preparatory study-abroad program.
The new Muss facility will have the capacity to house up to 5,000 high school students from the United States and other countries who come to Israel and study Jewish history for six-week and semester-long programs, as well as summer sessions. Construction of the village is expected to begin next year, with an opening date planned for 2024. Ground was broken in February, just inside the Beersheba River Park, which covers an area three times the size of New York’s Central Park, with a large lake, swimming pool, soccer fields, recreational activities, running paths and a 13,000-seat amphitheater within close proximity to the site for the village.
■ EULOGIZERS OF Yiddish have been premature in their predictions of the demise of Yiddish culture. Last week in Tel Aviv, Yiddishpiel attracted a full house and continues to do so. Seen in the audience was Yaakov Bodo, who is usually standing on the Yiddishpiel stage instead of siting in the auditorium. Bodo celebrated his 88th birthday at the end of March, and when he came out into the lobby after the show, scores of people wanted to take selfies with him. Others present included Yiddishpiel founder and former director Shmuel Atzmon and Bella Bryks-Klein, who publishes a monthly newsletter about Yiddish events all over Israel. The newsletter is called Vos Ven Vu, which translates as What, When, Where.