Grapevine: Part thespian, part psychologist - like any good rabbi

NOTWITHSTANDING DIRE predictions that television and the Internet will put an end to the public's desire to read books, publishing houses continue to churn out them out and people continue to read them - so much so that bookstore chains are expanding not only in number but in size. The steady flow of new books also demands new techniques in book launchings, which seem to have become a fascinating new and frequent form of entertainment. Speaking last week to a large audience at the Israel Center, Rabbi Marc Angel, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City, at the launch of his first work of fiction, The Search Committee, proved that every good rabbi must be part thespian, part psychologist. His book, published by Urim, focuses on two key characters who are candidates for the position of rosh yeshiva at a strict Lithuanian yeshiva founded by the grandfather of one of the candidates, whose father became the second rosh yeshiva and died without appointing a successor. Rabbi Shimshon Grossman, a rabbi of the old school, is the grandson of the founder of the yeshiva and sees himself to be the natural choice, continuing the traditions of his father and grandfather. He disapproves of innovation and wants the yeshiva to be an island of Torah. He has nothing but disdain for the search committee. Rabbi David Mercado, the other candidate, who is not as learned as Grossman and is much more modern in his outlook, believes that students should work to get rid of their pallor and should go out into the community to perform good deeds. Playing himself as moderator, Angel then proceeded to play the two different rabbis through the presentations that they gave to the search committee. Angel wanted the audience to take on the task of the search committee, and indeed some of them became so swept up in the dilemma that they became quite emotional. One man became extremely angry with Mercado for wanting to remove the underpinnings of an institution that stood for pure Torah. A woman disqualified Mercado for permitting his convert wife to go bareheaded. Another woman wanted to know in light of the current controversy over converts, how the two rabbis stood with regard to Mercado's wife or anyone in her situation. Several people found Grossman to be repugnant because of his insensitive attitude. One woman said there was room for both in the yeshiva world but not under the same roof, and suggested that Mercado go off and found his own Yeshiva. But a man put a lid on it when he said that neither candidate was suitable and suggested that more candidates be found, to which Angel's response was: "Do you want me to go out and write another book?" Of course generating audience participation to such a degree fostered more interest in the book, which was basically the purpose of the exercise. "I want readers to be the search committee," said Angel. "The message of the book is that people have the right to ask questions." MANY CHILD Holocaust survivors are keenly aware of anti-Semitic developments around the world. Among them is Manfred Gerstenfeld of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Speaking last Saturday at the Hatzvi Yisrael Synagogue, Gerstenfeld outlined the history of anti-Semitism from ancient times to the present, and noted that very few universities in the world teach anti-Semitism and that those that do, teach only the history of anti-Semitism and not the forebodings for the future. JERUSALEM-BASED entrepreneur Erel Margalit, who is the chairman of Jerusalem Venture Partners and is involved in many of the capital's cultural endeavors, now has an extra feather in his cap. He is now also chairman of a foundation that looks after the interests of Jerusalemites studying at the Technion in Haifa. When the late Teddy Kollek was mayor of Jerusalem, Margalit spent some time as the city's director of development during which he brought more than 70 hi-tech firms to the capital, radically changing the city's image and status. To ensure that Technion-educated Jerusalemites would return to the city to boost its technological human resources, Kollek, together with the late Yitzhak Cherniowski, in 1977 launched the organization that Margalit now chairs. It's almost like the closing of a circle. IT DOESN'T matter how big a big shot one is in one's own circle, the opportunity to travel on an official visit to a foreign country with the prime minister is something that many people would give their eyes and teeth for. While British business tycoon Sir Michael Bishop, the owner and CEO of British carrier bmi, which began flying to Israel three months ago, was indeed a member of the business delegation that accompanied British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to Israel, he preferred to travel independently on a bmi flight, which gave him the opportunity to check out whether other passengers were happy with bmi's service. That's one way of combining business with pleasure. COMME-IL-Faut, the fashion company that also advocates social responsibility and environmental awareness through its marketing campaigns, is releasing an 85-page report on social responsibility dealing with political issues, ethics, marketing, social agendas, environmental influences and other matters of significance. In some respects, the philosophies generated by Comme-il-Faut founder Sybil Goldfiner are similar to those of Benetton and have had as much impact on the local scene as Benetton on the international scene. The essential difference is that Goldfiner is a committed feminist and much of what she does is prompted by a feminist agenda, which comes through in her fashion design and business approach. Comme-il-Faut was founded some two decades ago in Tel Aviv, where it now operates three stores plus seven others in Jerusalem, Givatayim, Haifa, Ra'anana, Rehovot, Ramat Aviv and Ramat Hasharon. Its flagship, Bayit Banamal, is on the ever-trendier port of Tel Aviv and includes a waterside café, a fashion house, art gallery, jewelry store and more all under one roof.