Grapevine: Perfect timing

A round up of the latest happenings from around Israel.

(LEFT TO RIGHT) Bar-Ilan University president Prof. Daniel Herschkowitz, former US senator Joseph Lieberman and Ingeborg Rennert at the presentation of the IRCJS Guardian of Zion Award to Lieberman. (photo credit: YONI REIF)
(LEFT TO RIGHT) Bar-Ilan University president Prof. Daniel Herschkowitz, former US senator Joseph Lieberman and Ingeborg Rennert at the presentation of the IRCJS Guardian of Zion Award to Lieberman.
(photo credit: YONI REIF)
Timing is everything. Just around the time the Israeli media was reporting on US President Barack Obama’s remarks to Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview published in The Atlantic on May 21, former US senator Joe Lieberman was delivering the annual Guardian of Zion lecture at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.
Lieberman was the 19th recipient of Bar-Ilan University’s Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies’ Guardian of Zion Award. Less than halfway through his address, Lieberman said he wanted to appeal to Obama to direct that construction begin on a new American Embassy in Jerusalem.
“That would end the unjust anomaly of the US not locating our embassy in the city,” he said, noting that in every other country in the world, the host country designates its capital.
Lieberman made it clear that he thought the US has erred in not recognizing the capital, “ in a country that is one of our closest allies and best friends in the world.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, whose busy schedule had caused him to doubt he would be able to attend the gala dinner hosted each year by Ira and Ingeborg Rennert in celebration of the award, managed to change his plans slightly so he could honor both the Rennerts and Lieberman, and arrived just as Lieberman was asserting: “I know there are many people in Israel and America who think this is merely a symbolic issue, but I believe it is much more.
The rationale for the current unfair policy is that moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem would predetermine the negotiations with the Palestinians, and inflame public opinion in the Arab world, but why should it? “The land in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood, on which the US has long said it would build its embassy, has been Israeli since 1948.
Sovereignty over it will not change in negotiations with the Palestinians, unless one believes it is possible Jerusalem will be smaller than it is today, or that Israel will cease to exist as a Jewish state. Neither of those possibilities would be allowed by the American people or America’s government, so why continue to play this game? “It is time for the US to end this policy, which is dishonest to the Palestinians. President Obama can do what his predecessors from both political parties have failed to do, and move the American Embassy to Jerusalem – thereby clearly reassuring Israel of his and America’s commitment to the future of the Jewish state, and making himself a true Guardian of Zion.”
This was music to Barkat’s ears. If America paves the way, there is little doubt that several other embassies will follow suit and relocate to the capital’s Talbiyeh, German Colony, Baka, Greek Colony, Katamon and Talpiot neighborhoods.
To be even-handed, some might move to Abu Tor, a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood.
It’s not as if the diplomatic community boycotts Jerusalem. Aside from meetings with government personnel, MKs and spiritual leaders, many come to spend weekends in the Holy City, and of course all heads of state and government as well as senior ministers who pay official visits to Israel stay in Jerusalem – so Lieberman’s appeal to Obama is equally valid in relation to presidents and prime ministers of other countries.
FEW PHOTOGRAPHERS in Israel can boast of capturing the country’s 67 years of statehood in the lens of their cameras. David Rubinger is one of a kind.
Invited by President Reuven Rivlin, who became well-acquainted with him during his double-digit period of service in the Knesset, Rubinger came to the President’s Residence to give a PowerPoint presentation of some of his most famous photographs, and some that are lesser-known – including personal ones of him and his family. Rivlin told Rubinger he could invite whomever he chose, so Rubinger invited select friends and colleagues.
Rivlin said it was an honor to welcome someone who had not only lived through the entire history of the state, but had documented it forever with his memorable photographs.
Rubinger, who has won numerous accolades including the Israel Prize, was both appreciative and self-deprecating, calling himself “just a photojournalist.” A delightful raconteur, the 90-year-old spiced up the presentation with well-told, sad and humorous anecdotes that covered a wide spectrum of subjects.
Yair Medina, on behalf of his Jerusalem Fine Art Prints and Jerusalem Publishing Atelier, presented Rivlin with a rare collection based on the up-close pictures of Marc Chagall (March 28 marks the 30th anniversary of Chagall’s death), taken by Rubinger as he followed the Jewish artist during his visits to Jerusalem in the 1960s and ’70s while working on his masterpiece for the Knesset.
Among the people Rubinger invited to the event was Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde, who brought with him – hot off the press – the Post’s latest Front Page Israel book, which has a preface by Rivlin and photographs by Rubinger on several of the front pages. Other guests included former justice minister Dan Meridor; Dr. Eliezer Rachmilewitz and his wife, Tova; Spoons restaurateur Hila Solomon; Post columnist Avraham Avi-hai; and Hirsh Goodman, founding editor of The Jerusalem Report, now a sister publication of the Post.
AT ANOTHER meeting on the same day, Rivlin hosted some of the most revered of haredi rabbis, who inter alia had come to ask him to intercede with the US president to commute the sentence of an ultra-Orthodox man serving time for corruption in an American prison. Rivlin said this was something beyond his scope, and the rest of the discussion centered primarily on haredi issues.
A religious affairs reporter for one of the Hebrew papers termed the meeting historic, in that some delegation members are known for their anti-Zionist views – but the meeting was a natural progression of events considering that Rivlin has set out to be a uniting force for the different sectors of Israeli society. After paying a lot of attention to various segments of the country’s Arab and Druse communities, Rivlin is now turning towards the haredi community – where in addition to having quite a large number of relatives, he has a perfect liaison in the director of his office. Rivka Ravitz, an ultra-Orthodox mother of 11 children, also headed his bureau in the Knesset, including the period when he was speaker.
Ravitz, who has a couple of degrees to her credit and is studying for a PhD, entered the political arena when her late father-in-law – MK Rabbi Avraham Ravitz, who headed the Degel Hatorah Party – asked her to help him in his office. Her husband, Yitzhak Ravitz, is deputy mayor of Betar Illit, whose residents are all haredi; it is therefore easy for Rivlin to liaise with the haredi community, and for community representatives to secure an appointment with Rivlin.
In fact, Yitzhak Ravitz was part of the delegation that met with Rivlin. The group of rabbinical heavyweights, some of whom are members of the Council of Torah Sages, was accompanied by MK Ya’acov Litzman, who is deputy health minister; and haredi businessman and philanthropist Shlomo Werdiger, who contributes to many causes in the community, primarily those under the aegis of the Gur Hassidim.
Rivlin has said many times that the haredi and Arab sectors, which for many years were regarded as minorities, are on their way to becoming majorities if one looks at the number of children in elementary schools.
Without detracting from this and future meetings Rivlin will have with haredim, anyone researching Israel’s presidential archives will discover that nearly all of his predecessors also held meetings with this leadership.
ONE LAST item for now about Rivlin, to demonstrate the variety in the president’s schedule. Tomorrow, Thursday, the director of the International Friends of Givat Haviva will present him with the Givat Haviva Prize for a Shared Society at a special ceremony. Rivlin will address the ceremony – to be held at Givat Haviva, naturally – as will the institutes’s director for planning, equality and shared society, Mohammad Darawshe.
Also participating in the ceremony will be Jewish-Arab Center for Peace director Riad Kabha, Givat Haviva executive director Yaniv Sagee and leading members of the International Friends of Givat Haviva. Givat Haviva is largely supported by the New Israel Fund, which has come under considerable criticism from right-of-center political activists, but this has not deterred Rivlin – a former Likud MK, who first and foremost is a democrat.
IT’S HARDLY surprising that Abe Foxman – the long-standing national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who is stepping down after a 50-year career there – has been feted at a round of farewell parties in the US, but he’s also going through a round of farewells in Israel. Foxman has been here since the second week in May, having led a delegation of ADL leaders and supporters who came to salute his achievements in many years of working to expose and eradicate xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and discriminatory practices.
A Polish child Holocaust survivor who has been living in the US since he was 10 years old, Foxman has been national director of the ADL for 28 of his 50 years with the organization.
On May 11, there was a special event in his honor hosted by the Institute for National Security Studies, with the participation of Amos Yadlin, Dalia Rabin, Tali Lipkin-Shahak and other well-known personalities; two days later, he was honored by the Foreign Ministry within the framework of the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism. On May 18, Jerusalem Mayor Barkat hosted a special function in Foxman’s honor, in which Barkat told him that the City of Jerusalem recognizes and appreciates his achievements on behalf of the Jewish people.
Next, the ADL organized a special tribute to Foxman in Tel Aviv to which many of his Israeli friends and colleagues were invited, where he met up again with Yadlin. Other guests included Yossi Vardi; Yuval Diskin, former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency); journalist Ari Shavit; Eitan Haber, former bureau chief for Yitzhak Rabin; lawyer Yitzhak Molcho, who had also been among the guests at the function hosted by Barkat; former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy; former ministers Yossi Beilin, Ephraim Sneh and Rabbi Michael Melchior; businessman and Honorary Consul for New Zealand Gad Propper; Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo; and Israel Museum director James Snyder, among others.
Then, last Wednesday, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro hosted a dinner for Foxman where guests included former ambassadors to the US Zalman Shoval, Itamar Rabinovich and Danny Ayalon; hi-tech guru Vardi was also there, alongside US Consul-General Michael Ratney. Entertainment was provided by singer Shuli Natan. And there’s still more to come.
GENEALOGY IS a subject claiming increasing attention from year to year, partly because so much information is now available on the Internet, and people sometimes discover family roots quite by chance when seeking information about another subject altogether.
Genealogy is particularly important to Holocaust survivors who lost immediate family and whose parents, siblings and children have no grave. That may explain why Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi and Yad Vashem Council chairman Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau will be the keynote speaker at the 35th International Conference on Jewish genealogy, to be held at Jerusalem’s Ramada Hotel from July 6-10.
Organized by the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies together with Israeli genealogical societies, the conference will be attended by more than 600 Jewish genealogy enthusiasts from around the globe.
More than 200 lectures will cover worldwide research and archival resources; there will be also many “how-to” and one-on-one sessions with experts in various fields. Computer workshops will show how best to use all the latest online technological resources, and how DNA testing can identify relatives.
Some lecturers will give personal accounts of their family research and successes, explaining their methodology, tips and tricks.Special events include SIG (Special Interest Groups) and BOF (Birds of a Feather) breakfasts and lunches.
The closing banquet will be addressed by master genealogist Dick Eastman – who in the mid-1980s, at the dawn of the World Wide Web, pioneered one of the first online genealogy forums.
TO THE uninitiated, a kimono is just traditional Japanese attire, a part of Japanese folklore. In fact, it is much more than that – as Kaori Matsutomi, the vivacious wife of the Japanese ambassador, demonstrated to friends and colleagues of the International Women’s Club. She did so at an IWC Meet My Country event, which she hosted at the Japanese Residence in Herzliya Pituah last Friday morning.
The kimono – which dates back more than 1,000 years, to the Heian period from the 8th to 12th centuries – is one of the most important aspects of Japanese culture, she said. Japanese customs, philosophy and technique are all related in one way or another to the kimono, which in itself symbolizes the Japanese sense of beauty. Aided by embassy spouses and the wives of Japanese business executives representing their companies in Israel, Matsutomi explained some of the history of the kimono, and when and how it is worn.
She confessed that if she were to be attired in one of her own kimonos and put it on unaided, it would take her approximately an hour to get dressed – which is why she was so happy to have Ayako Maruyama help everyone who was wearing a kimono. Even with help, it can take up to half an hour because of the intricacies of tying the obi, the broad sash that keeps the kimono in place.
Matsutomi, who usually opts for Western- style clothing, wears a kimono for important occasions such as the emperor’s birthday, the opening of Japanese Week in the country in which her husband is serving and other special events aimed at promoting Japanese culture, such as the Japanese light-and-sound event that will take place this evening in Jerusalem’s Botanical Gardens. But Yoshie Ishihara, the wife of the Japanese military attache, often wears a kimono, especially to most of the receptions that she attends.
Some 70 IWC members, comprising diplomatic spouses and Israeli women, gathered at the Japanese Residence, with another 40 names on the waiting list. To add to the interest of the occasion, Maruyama brought her cute five-year-old son Ryotaro and pretty seven- year-old daughter Natuki, both of whom were wearing kimonos and delighted the audience.
Chihiro Mizuno, a model and the wife of a businessman working for the MITUI Trading Company, stood on-stage while Maruyama dressed her, and for those audience members who had never witnessed it before, it was a breathtaking experience because it involved so much tradition.
Nearly all the Japanese women in attendance wore kimonos in deference to their hostess, who had a tough time deciding exactly which of her own 20 kimonos and obis to wear. She actually has more than 40, but brought approximately half of them to Israel.
Her mother was very fond of kimonos, so Matsutomi wore them often as a child.
There was a lot of humor introduced into the fashion show as Japanese and non-Japanese women alike paraded the exquisite Japanese gowns. The audience was particularly enthusiastic when Akiko Nara, the wife of the chairman of JETRO , walked on stage with her baby, Akane. Needless to say, the cuisine enjoyed after the show was in line with Japanese culinary tradition and prepared by Chef Ajoika.
ATHLETICS IS an area not usually associated with members of Israel’s religiously observant community. It may therefore come as a surprise to learn that thousands of young women from this community are quite accomplished gymnasts, thanks to Tehila Fraenkel – the founder of Kvitz Kvotz, the largest all-girls gymnastics school in Jerusalem.
The school will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a high-flying gymnastics program at Teddy Stadium on June 10; more than 1,000 people have already signed up to attend the performance. With the Rhythmic Gymnastics Grand Prix series in Holon earlier this month, the National Gymnastics Championships in Jerusalem this year, and the European Championships set to be in Israel next year, Kvitz Kvotz is experiencing a surge of interest at its three major centers in Jerusalem.
Fraenkel came to Israel from America at age 12; having studied gymnastics in the US, she was surprised there was no girls gymnastics school or club available for religious girls. She started a small girls gymnastics circle in her parents’ home; once she completed national service, she went on to become one of the first religious female graduates of the advanced gymnastics program at the Wingate Institute.
Fraenkel was determined to build a school for religious girls that would rival anything available in Jerusalem; despite suffering a terrible gymnastics injury in which she broke her ankle in eight places, plus a number of other setbacks, Fraenkel persevered.
She underwent numerous operations but never gave up her dream, continuing at Wingate and graduating at the top of her class.
Fraenkel subsequently established a successful school that serves as the model for other Israeli gymnastics schools; her gymnasts have won dozens of awards in the national arena and the school’s steady growth has been a boon to the sports centers that have popped up in Jerusalem. She brings hundreds of girls to these centers, augmenting what is available with her own professional equipment and know-how.
Fraenkel also home-schools most of her six children, and runs an independent business.
SENIOR FOREIGN Ministry officials will join Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Grzegorz Schetyna at a special event. Initially planned to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic relations between Israel and Poland, it will also be a memorial tribute to Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, who died this past April at age 93.
The seemingly invincible Bartoszewski, who was twice Schetnya’s predecessor in office and was also an academic, historian, journalist, parliamentarian, diplomat, social activist, resistance fighter against the Nazis and prisoner in Auschwitz, saved the lives of untold numbers of Jews during World War II through Zagota, a Polish resistance organization dedicated to aiding Jews. Always pro-Jewish and pro-Israel, Bartoszewski was recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations and was also an Honorary Citizen of Israel.
Schetnya will deliver the keynote address at the commemorative event, which will be held at the Jerusalem offices of the American Jewish Committee on June 14. There will also be two panel discussions with former ambassadors to Poland; one discussion will be on the rebirth of Jewish life in Poland, and the other will be on Warsaw-Jerusalem relations today. Poland is known to be among Israel’s best friends in Europe.
THE FIRST session of the International Conference on Freedom of the Press, taking place in the capital under the auspices of the Jerusalem Press Club, was devoted to Daniel Pearl, the American-Jewish journalist of Israeli parentage who was kidnapped and murdered by Pakistani terrorists. Conference participants from 26 countries heard a moving tribute to Pearl by his former Wall Street Journal colleague, the Bombay-born Asra Q.
Nomani, in whose Karachi home Pearl was staying when he was kidnapped 13 years ago.
Nomani is Muslim, as are several of the conference participants, and she exudes a sense of humanitarian harmony that appears contagious.
The person most moved by Nomani’s reminiscences of her long friendship with Pearl was Solene Chalvon, who worked for Charlie Hebdo for five years. Her voice shaking with emotion, she told Nomani that when she listened to her, she could fully identify with her feelings – because she felt the same way about those of her colleagues who had been killed by terrorists four months ago.
On a lighter note, Jerusalem Press Club director Uri Dromi surprised Russian journalist Aleksey Simonov by showing a video clip of a Russian rendition of a poem written by Simonov’s father, well-known poet, playwright and journalist Konstantin Simonov. Dromi first met Aleksey Simonov, who is president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, when Simonov received a freedom of speech award in Warsaw.
On hearing his name, Dromi told him that “Wait for Me and I’ll Return” – one of the most popular songs during the War of Independence – had been translated from Russian, and had originally been written by a Russian poet by the name of Konstantin Simonov. To which Aleksey Simonov had responded: “That was my father.”
Simonov was dumbfounded by Dromi’s gesture.
VETERAN BROADCASTER David Witzthum is retiring from the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Witzthum – who together with Oren Nahari is part of a small cadre of the IBA’s true intellectuals, who have an extraordinarily vast and diverse range of knowledge – turned 67 in January, the mandatory retirement age for employees of state enterprises. Like some of his colleagues who have reached retirement age, Witzthum will continue to work on a very limited basis, but only for a short period.
When asked why he’s dropping out when Yaakov Ahimeir, who is several years his senior, continues to broadcast several days a week, Witzthum smiled and replied: “He’s a very special phenomenon.”