Grapevine: The ‘olim’ from Down Under

On a per capita ratio, Australia has the highest rate of aliya and the highest rate of fund-raising for Israel.

YONATAN BELIK (left) with Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma. (photo credit: AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY)
YONATAN BELIK (left) with Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma.
(photo credit: AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY)
Veteran and new immigrants from the most southern continent have made their mark in Israel in many fields – diplomacy, medicine, business, education, property development, public relations, law, philosophy, sport, philanthropy, religious guidance, et al.
Some of the names that instantly come to mind are martial arts champion and peace activist Danny Hakim; Garry Stock, chairman of the James Richardson Group which sells duty free goods at Ben-Gurion Airport; Nathan Cherny, director of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center oncology department’s cancer pain and palliative care unit; Eliyahu Honig, associate vice president of the Hebrew University, who originally came to Israel as a tennis player and was the only member of the first Australian team in the Maccabiah Games; building contractor Jack Beris, whose early projects included Kiryat Wolfson, Jerusalem’s luxury urban village; philanthropist Eli Lederman, who engages in hands-on projects all over the country; Tal Becker, a Shalom Hartman Institute academic and senior legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry; Rabbi Raymond Apple, emeritus chief rabbi of the Sydney Great Synagogue; hi-tech and bio-tech entrepreneur Guy Spigelman; philosopher and author Prof. Haim Marantz; and Paul Israel, executive director of the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce.
On a per capita ratio, Australia has the highest rate of aliya and the highest rate of fund-raising for Israel.
■ ANOTHER EXTREMELY well known Australian is retired businessman Isi Leibler, who writes a regular column for The Jerusalem Post, and who is a former leader of Australian Jewry.
Leibler is also an avid collector of Judaica, especially that created by Jerusalem-born artist Moshe Zabari whose retrospective exhibition in honor of his 80th birthday opened at the Bible Lands Museum this week. The exhibition contains several items from Leibler’s own collection, and Leibler contributed to the cost of the impressive exhibition catalogue and wrote its foreword.
He also opened the exhibition, saying that prior to the 20th century, most finely crafted traditional Judaica silver work was created by non-Jews, as Jews were excluded from the craft guilds. He lamented the fact that with rare exceptions, very few of the Jews now engaged in silver craft and who have become celebrated artists are interested in crafting Judaica.
Zabari is one of the exceptions and is recognized as one of the greatest creators of Jewish ceremonial art of his generation, said Leibler, who commended the Bible Lands Museum for hosting the exhibition, which will enable Israelis to appreciate the elegance and sheer aesthetic appeal of Zabari’s work.
Leibler has known and admired Zabari as an artist and as a friend for almost 40 years, and recalled having attended the opening of a 25-year retrospective exhibition of his work at the New York Jewish Museum in 1986.
Given his talent, Leibler characterized Zabari’s career as a unique phenomenon based on an exclusive commitment to Jewish art and design. In this most secular of centuries, he said, Zabari sees himself as inspired by the biblical Bezalel, who was enjoined by the Almighty to fashion and create with the greatest of skill the furnishings for the Ark.
What makes Zabari unique, Leibler continued, is the synthesis of the two worlds he represents – that of traditional Jewish ceremonial arts and that of 20th century design – a synthesis distinctive in its innovativeness and spiritual authenticity.
Zabari has been connected with the Bible Lands Museum ever since its inception. The museum’s founder, Dr. Elie Borowski, met him in New York in 1967, long before the establishment of the museum.
Years later, when Borowski turned his dream into a reality, Zabari joined the exhibition design team prior to the installation of the museum’s main exhibition in May 1992, said museum director Amanda Weiss.
Zabari has been a friend and supporter of the museum ever since.
Weiss explained that as a museum of antiquities, devoted to “encouraging a greater appreciation and understanding of our history and our heritage, juxtaposing the works of master craftsman and world-renowned Judaica artist Moshe Zabari alongside the ancient art on display in this museum catapults this institution into the future.”
The exhibition will be on display through December 2015.
■ DESPITE THE early hour and the grueling weather conditions, many Aussies showed up at Yarkon Park last Friday morning to support the teams playing in the Australian Football League Peace Team Jolson Cup Tournament.
The Peace Team is made up of Israelis and Palestinians who are developing a sense of mutual trust and understanding through playing football together. It isn’t always easy, especially for the Palestinians, some of whom have great difficulty in getting to practice sessions.
On the day of the tournament, any visitor from the State of Victoria in Australia could have been forgiven for thinking they were in Caulfield Park, a huge expanse with various sports facilities in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, where Jews and non-Jews can be seen playing football every day of the week. Australian flags decorated the field in Tel Aviv and Australian football songs blared out from the loud speaker.
The event was made possible by the stubborn belief in hope of Yonatan Belik, an Australian citizen who had been a player in the Peres Peace Center’s AFL Peace Team.
But only after he began studying in Jerusalem and developing friendships with Palestinians from east Jerusalem did he decide to revive the AFL Peace Team, and Friday’s enthusiastic attendance proved that he’d been on the right track.
There were six teams in the tournament, and players included Israelis who had played with the AFL Peres Peace Teams in 2008 and 2011, Aussie expats, Zionist Federation of Australia gap-year participants and, from the Australian Embassy, Ambassador Dave Sharma, deputy head of mission James McGarry and the Australian representative to the Palestinian Authority, Tom Wilson.
Sharma told the crowd that the importance of the Peace Team is that it is spreading among the two nations a unified, determined message of tolerance, cooperation and aspiration to succeed together.
■ ON THE previous night, the Australian ambassador’s residence in Herzliya Pituah took on a distinctly Jerusalem ambience.
Sharma and his wife, Rachel Lord, hosted friends and supporters of the Malki Foundation, which is headed by Arnold Roth, an Australian expat, whose teenage daughter Malki was killed in a terrorist attack in 2001.
Because the Malki Foundation, which was founded by Roth and his wife, Frimet, is headquartered in Jerusalem, many of its friends, supporters and beneficiaries are naturally Jerusalemites. It is dedicated to helping special needs children and their families by finding and funding therapists best suited to help any given case.
Sharon Zinger, an anesthesiologist with a special needs son, said that after he was born she was advised by a neurosurgeon that only with intensive therapies might his condition improve. After running around from doctor to doctor and exhausting their finances, the family discovered the Malki Foundation, which has been helping them ever since, and there has been a definite improvement in her son’s condition. “My son is now in a regular grade-five class,” she said, as some of the people present wiped tears from their eyes.
■ AND ONE last mention for now of people who came to Israel from Oz: It has now been confirmed that Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador designate to the United Kingdom and a former Habonim leader, will be speaking at the Australian Habonim 75th anniversary reunion at the Council for a Beautiful Israel in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park on October 22. Sharma will also be one of the speakers, as will one of the most veteran of Australian immigrants, Betty Doari, who was a member of Australia’s first Habonim aliya nucleus in 1945, and was among the founders of Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi. Also on the program is talented Australian comedian Jeremie Bracka.
■ ANYONE WHO has had any dealings with Itai Benvenisti, the Jerusalem district manager of the Post’s commercial department, which includes the advertising department, knows him as someone who is both friendly and helpful. In the Israel Defense Forces they also know him as an outstanding officer who performs well under all circumstances.
That’s the reason that Maj. (res.) Benvenisti received a certificate of commendation from OC Southern Command Shlomo Turgeman this past Tuesday at Southern Command headquarters, in recognition of his outstanding performance as an officer during his reserve duty.
Members of his family were on hand to savor the moment, and his colleagues at the Post are proud to salute him. Benvenisti comes from a good gene pool. He is related to political scientist, peace activist and prolific writer Meron Benvenisti, who for seven years was deputy mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek. Itai’s grandfather and Meron’s father were brothers.
■ WHEN RELIGIOUS SERVICES Minister David Azoulay this week chanced to meet Faina Kirschenbaum, a former deputy interior minister who toward the end of last year was embroiled in a widespread corruption scandal that caused her to resign from the Knesset, he greeted her with great enthusiasm.
The encounter was at the Dan Panorama hotel in Tel Aviv where Oybek Eshonov, the ambassador of Uzbekistan, was hosting his country’s Independence Day reception.
Unlike many countries that simply have a reception, a speech by the ambassador, and another by the minister representing the government or by a senior representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, countries like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, China and Thailand always enhance their national day receptions with traditional foods from their respective countries, plus folklore performances and in some cases exhibits of folk art.
Guests arriving at the Uzbekistan reception saw a wonderfully colorful exhibition of Bukharan costumes, ornate boots, tableware, musical instruments, intricate weaves and embroideries from the private collection of Uzbekistan-born Shoshana Ichak. In the banquet hall, guests were piling their plates with Uzbekistan culinary delights and going back for seconds, which means that the Dan Panorama chefs had succeeded in creating the authentic flavor of what appeals to the Uzbekistan palate.
Azoulay was accompanied by three of his advisers who wanted to mount the stage with him, but he waved them away. However, at the conclusion of the ceremonial proceedings, former MK Amnon Cohen mounted the stage to have a photograph taken with Eshonov, Azoulay and Shlomo Morgan of the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department.
Azulay joined in the applause following the singing of the national anthems by glorious-voiced opera singer Julia Masti Moroz. He also mouthed the last verse of “Hatikva.”
Eshonov commented that Israel had been one of the first countries to recognize Uzbekistan after it gained independence 24 years ago. Since then, a friendship based on common values and strategic challenges has blossomed at all levels.
Uzbekistan, after becoming independent, set out to build a democratic state with a market economy, and today Israel is one of its major trading partners in the Middle East. Uzbekistan’s annual GDP rate averages 8.06 percent.
Eshonov made a point of welcoming veterans who fought in the Second World War, telling them: “Your bravery and courage saved us from a world catastrophe.”
Despite being a mainly Muslim country, Uzbekistan has a proud history of being good to its Jews, something on which Azoulay focused in his address. “We cannot speak of Israel-Uzbekistan relations without mentioning the magnificent Jewish community that lived and flourished in Uzbekistan,” he said. “Israel has a moral debt to the leadership of Uzbekistan for the warmth and tolerance it has shown and continues to show to the Jewish community. This is true both for the ancient Bukharan community, whose presence in Uzbekistan dates to the First Temple, and for Jews who fled the horrors of Nazi Germany and took refuge in Uzbekistan.”
Today, said Azoulay, the Jews who remain there continue to serve as a bridge between the two peoples and the two countries.
The Uzbekistan Embassy had flown in some deliciously sweet Uzbekistan fruit, including giant-sized honey melons, one of which Eshonov presented to Azoulay, who assured him that he would recite a blessing over it on Rosh Hashana.
■ ALTHOUGH HE no longer holds public office, the general public will not allow Shimon Peres to fade into oblivion. He is constantly being asked to be the honorary president or chairman of this or that organization, or to be the guest of honor at a high-profile event or to help promote a worthwhile project.
Just as Britain rejoices in the long reign of Queen Elizabeth, Israel and the Jewish world rejoice in Peres, who is a globally respected public figure who has officially and unofficially represented Israel on the world stage and continues to do so. With due respect to Her Majesty, Peres has been serving his people for just a little longer than she has been serving hers.
This week he was given a life achievement award from the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce, in the presence of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro. The presentation was made by the chamber’s chairwoman, Ofra Strauss, and its CEO, Ronit Benbasat Rom, together with Shapiro at the chamber’s celebration of its 50th anniversary.
In accepting the award, Peres called for the restoration of the special relationship that has existed between Israel and the United States under every US administration, from that of president Harry S. Truman to that of President Barack Obama. America has always been on Israel’s side, especially when Israel was under attack or in danger, he said, as he voiced appreciation to members of the chamber who have maintained and boosted the economic relationship between the two countries. Peres made the point that America helps all countries in times of need.
If Rosh Hashana is almost upon us, Succot is not far behind. Peres will be one of some 800 personalities sharing anecdotes at the annual Storyteller’s Festival in Givatayim, hosted by Yossi Alfi, and will join Alfi in a one-on-one conversation.
Apropos Elizabeth, she will next April celebrate her 90th birthday, and in November 2017 she will celebrate her 70th wedding anniversary. For British Jews it will be a double celebration because in November 2017 they will also be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.
■ JEWISH AGENCY chairman Natan Sharansky, who was interviewed on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet about the rise in immigration, especially from France, commented that more people would come from there if better housing and education were available.
A lot of French students are enrolled in the state religious school system, but it doesn’t suit them, he said. Whereas English was once the most common language after Hebrew in places like Ashkelon and Ashdod, observed Sharansky, it is now French.
Interviewer Benny Teitelbaum asked Sharansky how many years he had been in Israel and, after being told 28, remarked that Sharansky still hasn’t been able to overcome his strong Russian accent. “What can I do?” responded Sharansky. “It hasn’t prevented me from making contact with people all over the world.”
Teitelbaum was curious as to which language Sharansky speaks when he’s with other Russian immigrants. Sharansky didn’t fall into any isolationist trap. “When we don’t want you to understand, we speak Russian.”
■ TO ALL readers of this column: May the coming year be one of less aggravation, fewer frustrations, greater mutual understanding and tolerance among all sectors of the population, the realization of more dreams and the blossoming of peace in our region and throughout the world.