GRAPEVINE: Look who’s asking

El Al went one better than simply including a celebrity on its flight LY339 to Amsterdam last week.

ROY SOFFER  (photo credit: DAN HOTEL)
(photo credit: DAN HOTEL)
In business, thinking out of the box often results in creative gimmickry. For instance, how does one make a flight from Israel to Europe more interesting? The usual answer is to put a celebrity on board. But celebrities don’t necessarily mingle with other passengers. They’re usually seated in first class or business class.
El Al went one better than simply including a celebrity on its flight LY339 to Amsterdam last week. Itai Herman – the walking encyclopedia, or perhaps more accurately the human Google, who is known to Kan 11 viewers as The Chaser – was on board, this time not to answer questions but to ask them during an in-flight trivia quiz. Part of Herman’s personal salesmanship is to wear eye-catching tee shirts. For the flight he chose a black one that was punctuated on the front with a large white question mark.
Using the Kahoot multiple choice learning platform, Herman put questions to the passengers, who were meanwhile supplied with clues for Internet surfing for answers, plus chasers of another kind by the cabin crew. The passengers with the three highest scores were awarded vouchers of $100, $50 and $25 for the purchase of in-flight duty free products.
■ RELATIONS BETWEEN Israel and India took on an added dimension in 2017, when the Dan Hotels chain opened its first overseas property in Bangalore, India. The 226-room luxury hotel, named “The Den,” is located in the Whitefield district of the city. Bangalore, officially known as Bengaluru, is the capital of the state of Karnataka, and is the third most densely populated city in India with more than 10 million residents.
A new restaurant called Layla was recently opened at The Den, and in order to add an Israeli flavor to the cosmopolitan menu, Haim Spiegel, who heads the chain’s food and beverage division, dispatched highly reputed chef Roy Soffer to India.
Spiegel explained that Soffer was chosen not only because he is a leading chef with considerable experience working in restaurants, including those in hotels, but also because of his wealth of culinary knowledge and his talents as a teacher of young chefs who want to progress and succeed. Soffer met with the highly professional Indian team that will run the restaurant’s kitchen and shared the secrets of Mediterranean cuisine. For some this was their first encounter with this kind of culinary fare.
■ CONTRARY TO the old adage that the world belongs to the young, the world actually belongs to people of a more advanced age. It is the future that belongs to the young, who are getting older minute by minute and day by day.
One only has to look at the ages of some of the world’s leading mega-philanthropists to realize that it’s not the young who are calling the shots. A few examples among Jewish philanthropists include Lynn Schusterman, who will celebrate her 80th birthday on January 21; Sheldon Adelson; 85; Jeanne Pratt, 82; Morton Mandel, 97; George Soros, 88; Charles Bronfman, 87; and Harry Triguboff, 85.
Triguboff, one of the wealthiest people in Australia, was born in China to Russian parents. He first came to Australia in 1947 to complete his high school education. He subsequently lived in England and South Africa, before returning to Australia in 1960.
After embarking on a series of odd jobs, he saved up sufficient funds for the purchase of a plot of land on which he wanted to build a house. The builder disappointed him time and again, and eventually, with money running out, Triguboff decided to do the job himself. The trial-and-error undertaking proved to be a springboard to real estate development. He is one of the largest real estate developers in Australia, with tens of thousands of housing units to his credit. His personal wealth is estimated at $9.2 billion.
Through his Harry Triguboff Foundation, he supports numerous causes, including several in Israel, one of the most important being the Shorashim Center, which helps immigrants prove their Jewish origins. He’s also a keen supporter of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund and has been a generous donor to several of its projects, including forest rehabilitation, building water reservoirs, an amphitheater at the Israel Intelligence Commemoration Center and the Triguboff Gardens at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv.
His current project is the Triguboff Center in the Negev, due to be completed this coming spring, within less than 12 months from the start of construction. Dedicated to vocational training and advancing employment among Bedouin communities in the southern region, the center is located at the Idan Hanegev Industrial Park near Rahat, the most densely populated Bedouin community in Israel.
Led by former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, who is chairman of the Triguboff Institute, and Shalom Norman, its executive director, a delegation of board members of the institute visited the site last month to inspect the final stage of construction.
The center, through its training services, will not only provide Bedouin males with the know-how for various kinds of employment, but also Bedouin women, so that they can contribute to the family income and help improve the family’s quality of life. In addition to vocational training and job counseling, the center will also provide a spectrum of services for employed women such as counseling on parenting, family planning, health, household management and children’s nutrition.
The Triguboff Center, covering an area of 500 square meters and featuring classrooms, workshop rooms, counseling rooms and an auditorium, is being built in cooperation with members of the Idan Hanegev Joint Vocational Park, under the auspices of the Rahat Municipality and the Regional Council of Bnei Shimon, led by Moshe Paul, former Bnei Shimon mayor.
While in the area, the delegation also met with the executive management of the SodaStream industrial complex, where Jews and Bedouin work side by side. It also visited the ANZAC Memorial Center adjacent to the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Beersheba and laid a wreath at the cemetery.
■ IN 2018, Israel lost several of its literary icons – most recently Amos Oz, who was arguably the greatest of them all. Although his family had requested that there be no eulogies at his funeral, Oz was eulogized by many in Israel and abroad, once news of his death became public, and in the end there were eulogies at Tzavta, where his body lay in state before it was taken for burial to Kibbutz Hulda.
What was surprising, almost to the extent of being shocking, was the dearth of death and condolence notices in the Israeli media. Although much editorial space had been devoted to Oz, who through his writings had brought much honor and glory to Israel, and whose talent and intellect were admired even by those who disagreed with him politically, the only newspaper that carried death and condolence notices on Sunday, two days after his death, was Haaretz – and even then, there were fewer than one would have anticipated for someone who had been awarded so many prestigious prizes at home and abroad.
The notices in Haaretz on Sunday were from the New Israel Fund, Tzavta, J Street, the Hebrew Writers Association, and Women Against the Occupation and for Human Rights. The other two notices were from family and friends. There were more notices on Monday, the day of the funeral – but mostly in Haaretz, as if institutions on the right of the political spectrum refused to acknowledge his greatness even in death.
But people who spoke about him on radio and television and who wrote about him in the print media made the point that aside from his intellect, literary talents and his prolific output, he was an Israeli patriot, something rarely said these days about people on the left of center. Much as he despaired of some of the government’s policies, he loved Israel, he loved Israelis and he loved Zionism.
Curiously, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, when speaking at a Sabbath cultural event in Haifa over the weekend and declaring that he would not join a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, did not discount the possibility of joining a coalition led by a left-wing administration. He underscored that “left” is not a dirty word, and just as there are right-wing patriots, there are left-wing patriots. They just have different viewpoints.
In July of this year, Oz and his good friends A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman – all three native Jerusalemites – were among 180 signatories to an open letter protesting the enactment of the Nation-State Law, which they said was discriminatory and undermined coexistence.
Interviewed in Moscow in October 2018 by Antonia Yamin, Kan 11’s European correspondent, Oz, who had gone to Russia to receive the Tolstoy Prize for Literature, was asked by her to comment on the Nation-State Law. His reply was that enacting love and loyalty legislation was pointless. “They have to be earned.”
Other literary icons who died in 2018 included Aharon Appelfeld, Nili Mirsky, Haim Gouri, Nathan Shaham, and Tamir Lahav-Radlmesser.
Happily, Yehoshua, Grossman, Eli Amir, Meir Shalev, Agi Mishol, Haim Be’er, Etgar Keret, Eshkol Nevo, Orly Castel-Bloom, Zeruya Shalev, Sami Michael and others are still with us.
■ IT MAY be the time of year, or possibly a greater awareness of poetry and prose, but there were quite a lot of literary events during the month of December. Last Thursday evening at a ceremony at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem, Sharron Hass was awarded the Yehuda Amichai Prize for Poetry.
Earlier in the month, the 2018 Mendele Prize for Yiddish Literature was awarded to Prof. Avraham Novershtern at the Einav Center in Tel Aviv.
A couple of days later Beruriah Wiegand launched her new books of poetry in Yiddish, Hebrew and English at Beit Leyvik in Tel Aviv.
■ IN JERUSALEM, at a ceremony at the President’s Residence, poet Amichai Hasson was awarded the Dr. Gardner Simon Prize for Hebrew Poetry for his book Without Which. The NIS 70,000 prize was conceived as a joint initiative of Nechama Rivlin and Administrator-General Sigal Yaakobi within the framework of Israel’s 70th anniversary and to honor the wish of Dr. Gardner Simon, who sought to encourage the writing of Hebrew poetry. It was the first time that the prize was awarded at the President’s Residence.
■ COMMENTING ON the upcoming Knesset elections on the Gav Ha’Uma satirical program on Channel 10 last Saturday night, veteran military reporter Ron Ben-Yishai said that people who may be great generals in the army are not always great politicians in civilian life. The exceptions, he said, were Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, who were raised in politically active families. Actor Lior Ashkenazi remarked that the best thing about the elections was that Miri Regev would no longer be culture minister, to which program host Lior Schleien responded, “No, she’ll come back as education minister.”
■ PERHAPS IT’S because witnesses to the Holocaust become fewer as time passes, or perhaps the upsurge in antisemitism around the globe is making more people, especially Jews, more conscious of Holocaust history – whatever the reason, interest in the Holocaust remains high.
This was evidenced in the large attendance last week at the Ringelblum Archives Symposium at the Law Faculty of Tel Aviv University, where the crowd that packed the auditorium included students in their twenties and Holocaust survivors in their 80s. The Ringelblum Archives are essentially the documentation of day-to-day life in the Warsaw Ghetto initiated by historian Emanuel Ringelblum, and written by a group of historians and journalists, most of whom did not survive.
One who did was Rachel Auerbach, who was a prolific Yiddish and Polish writer, historian and Holocaust scholar, who wrote extensively on Jewish life in Poland before the war to heighten understanding of what was lost. In addition to documenting daily life in the ghetto, Auerbach served for three years as the director of the Leszno Street soup kitchen. The Ringelblum Archives were buried and partially recovered after the war.
Not particularly Jewish in appearance, Auerbach smuggled herself out of the ghetto a month before the uprising and, because she also had a good command of German, was able to secure a secretarial position as a translator while living under a false Aryan identity. She continued writing for an underground tribune. Even before the war ended, Auerbach busied herself collecting testimonials from Jews so that knowledge of what went on in wartime Poland could be left for future generations.
Auerbach moved to Israel in 1950 and dedicated the rest of her life to gathering testimonials and writing her own recollections of the Holocaust years. She died in 1976 at age 73. There were people in the audience who had not previously known about her, and the excitement was close to electric.
The event was highlighted by Roberta Grossman’s film Who will write our history? which is about Ringelblum’s Oyneg Shabes group of writers. The film includes actual footage from the Warsaw Ghetto during the war. Grossman’s purpose in making the film was to extend what Ringelblum set out to do.
The seminar was organized by the Institute for the History of Polish Jewry and Israel-Poland Relations at Tel Aviv University and the European Association of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in conjunction with the Minerva Center for Human Rights – Tel Aviv University; Wiener Library for the Study of the Nazi Era and the Holocaust; the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism; Moreshet – Mordechai Anielevich Memorial Holocaust Study and Research Center; and the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv. Speakers were from Israel, France and Poland. One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Karolina Szymaniak of the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.
■ AT THE beginning of this week news outlets around the world published the story of Georges Loinger, who died last Friday in Paris at the age 108. As it happens, he was the uncle of popular Israeli singer Yardena Arazi. However, neither his longevity nor his kin were his claim to fame. In fact, talking of kin, he was also related to famous French mime artist Marcel Marceau.
The reason that Loinger’s death attracted so much attention was because he had been a famous French resistance fighter during the Second World War, and had been instrumental in smuggling hundreds of Jewish children across the border from France to Switzerland. Marceau, whose father was deported to Auschwitz, from where he did not return, was an expert forger, and provided Jewish children with false documents that indicated that they were Christian. Loinger had been in the French Army, was taken prisoner by the Germans and placed in a POW camp. His blond hair, blue eyes and athletic physique saved him from being identified as a Jew. He escaped, joined the OSE, and became involved with the rescue of children. One of seven siblings himself, he recruited his brothers and sisters to help. He used a variety of ruses to get the youngsters across the border.
After the war, he was active in illegal immigration, including the rounding up of passengers for the Exodus 1947. He later helped to found the ZIM shipping company and was for many years its European representative. A lifelong ardent Zionist, he wrote several books on Zionism.
In an interview on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, Arazi said that she could not understand why Yad Vashem has for years focused so much attention on non-Jews who had saved Jews, and so little on Jews who saved Jews. In recent years Yad Vashem has given more attention to Jews who saved Jews and has even hosted seminars on the subject.
■ WITHOUT IN any way detracting from the importance of Netanyahu’s visit to Brazil, especially in view of the fact that he is the first sitting prime minister of Israel to visit South America, it must be noted that the path was paved for him by president Ephraim Katzir, who went to Guatemala in 1977 to sign an arms deal.
In July 2001 Shimon Peres, who was then deputy prime minister and foreign minister, went to Lima, Peru, to attend the inauguration ceremony of President Alejandro Toledo.
During the visit Peres met with the heads of state of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica and El Salvador.
In July 2009, Avigdor Liberman, who was then foreign minister, went on a 10-day trip to South America, and visited Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Colombia. This visit was instrumental in emphasizing the high level of importance that the Foreign Ministry ascribed to Latin America. Liberman had announced upon assuming office that Israel must develop contacts in new directions, in addition to its special relations with the United States and close ties with Europe, and build broad international coalitions, in order to expand its influence and strengthen Israeli interests.
Peres was back in South America in November 2009 in his capacity as president of Israel, but several weeks before Liberman’s visit, public security minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch visited Panama and Costa Rica; and deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon attended the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Honduras. A month after Liberman’s visit, energy and water minister Uzi Landau went to Paraguay and Ecuador.
That November, Peres visited Brazil and Argentina and was warmly received by Brazil’s president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Although the visit was ostensibly to strengthen economic ties and included a large business delegation of presidents and CEOs of leading Israeli companies in the fields of water, technology, agriculture, communications, energy, medical equipment and defense, the true purpose was to discuss Iranian infiltration into the South American continent. Although the visit itself was very successful despite anti-Israel demonstrations by Palestinians and their sympathizers, it was unfortunate in its unrelated aftermath.
The president’s delegation also included tourism minister Stas Meseznikov, who was arrested and convicted of fraud and breach of trust, began serving his 15-month prison sentence in December 2017, and was released after eight months.
In 2015 Argentina’s federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman filed a comprehensive dossier accusing Kirchner of covering up the Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. Nisman was murdered only hours before he was due to testify against Kirchner, who in 2017 was charged with corruption and running a criminal network and is awaiting trial.
Lulu, who was the most popular politician ever in Brazil, was convicted of money laundering in July 2017 and began serving his sentence in April 2018.
■ IT WASN’T just an aha moment. It was more in the nature of a ha ha moment. In fact, guests spent most of the night roaring with laughter at an evening aptly titled “Let there be Laughter.” The American Friends of Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People got together at Manhattan’s Mandarin Oriental for a night of Jewish humor that emanated not only from the stage but also from some of the rich content of “Let There Be Laughter: Jewish Humor Around the World,” the blockbuster exhibition currently on display at Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv, but brought to New York for the occasion.
A veritable Who’s Who of Americans and Israelis mingled at the tables. Among them were: Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, who has announced that he will not be running in the Likud primaries, because he has more important work to do in New York; Dani Dayan, Israel’s consul-general in New York; Alfred H. Moses, co-chairman of Beit Hatfutsot’s board of governors; Daniel S. Pincus, president, American Friends of Beit Hatfutsot; Terry Kassel, Paul E. Singer Foundation; Michele Tocci, David Berg Foundation; Harlene Winnick Appelman, Covenant Foundation; Tzili Charney, Leon H. Charney Foundation; Linda Mirels, co-chair, New York-Israel Commission for the State of New York; Nina Weiner, founding president, ISEF Foundation; and David Zaslav, president and CEO, Discovery, Inc., along with Dan Tadmor, CEO, Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot; and Shula Bahat, CEO, Beit Hatfutsot of America.
The evening opened with a delightfully original rendition of “It Had to be Jews” sung to the tune of “It Had to Be You” by YidLife Crisis, the MCs for the evening. Event chair Ricky Shechtel greeted the guests and promised an evening of pure merriment and laughter. Irina Nevzlin, chairwoman of the board of Beit Hatfutsot, wowed the crowd with her wit.
Tribute was paid to Caroline Hirsch, the visionary entrepreneur, founder and owner of Caroline’s of Broadway and the New York Comedy Festival, for her contribution to the global world of comedy. Hirsch said in response that she was honored to be recognized by the Museum of the Jewish People, and particularly thrilled that the honor was given to her on such an incredibly special night celebrating the Jewish contribution to the art of comedy.
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