Grapevine: Post-war mission

JUST AS it had done during the Second Lebanon War, Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, mounted a solidarity mission to Israel.

n JUST AS it had done during the Second Lebanon War, Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, mounted a solidarity mission to Israel. Although the mission, headed by National President Nancy Falchuk, was planned during the period of Operation Cast Lead, it arrived only this week. The mission, which included members of the Hadassah executive, was in Israel for four days, visiting Ashkelon, Ashdod, Sderot, Beersheba and kibbutzim in the area. They inspected bomb shelters, saw the stockpile of shells from rockets, spoke to local residents and met with mayors. They also met with military officers in an army camp and were given detailed explanations about Israel's security precautions and existing needs. In Jerusalem the delegation met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and with Mayor Nir Barkat and, of course, visited the Hadassah Medical Center to check on the progress of the Davidson Tower, which is slated to be be one of the most sophisticated medical facilities in the Middle East. Construction costs were originally budgeted at $200 million; but in view of the growing needs, the budget has been increased to $318 million. n NOW THAT the American elections are over and the Israeli elections are on the immediate horizon, Israel can expect a visit from US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. President Shimon Peres, who spoke to her on Monday night, got the impression that America will not try to pressure Israel into anything in the immediate future, but residents of West Bank communities and foreign journalists are not so sure. In fact, because journalists are now taking a greater interest in what is going on in the West Bank, the Jewish communities there have taken the initiative and started organizing Wednesday press tours, the first of which took place this week with visits to communities in Tekoa, Hebron and Sussiya. The journalists also visited Kfar Etzion, some 2 km east of Jerusalem, where they were shown an audiovisual program about the history of the area. n THE SCENE in the lobby of the Inbal Hotel on the opening day of the World Jewish Congress Plenary was sheer bedlam, with hundreds of people from around the world lining up to register. In the evening, the scene at the Regency Hotel was not much different as people lined up to register for the Jerusalem Summit. On the same night, the lobby outside the Jerusalem Council Chambers was like a glorified sardine can as diplomats, black-robed priests and nuns, Arabs in keffiyehs and leading Jewish, Christian and Muslim Jerusalemites crowded at the entrance to the chamber, where Mayor Nir Barkat and his wife, Beverly, were waiting to receive the hundreds of guests who had responded to their invitation to the annual ecumenical reception. The emcee for the event was Israel Radio's Dan Kaner, who spoke in Hebrew. Barkat, explaining that Hebrew was usually the prevailing language in the chamber, said that out of deference to the fact that most of his guests do not speak Hebrew, he would speak in English. In fact, he began with a greeting in Arabic, and then switched to English. El Salvador Ambassador Susana Gun de Hasenson, who delivered the message of the diplomatic corps, also spoke in English as did Uzbek community leader and peace activist Sheikh Abdel Aziz al-Bukhari and Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, who dropped the hint that Jerusalemites have no cause for concern about the renewal of contracts on property that belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Holy Places including the Western Wall, spoke Hebrew. A common thread in all the speeches was a love for Jerusalem and the need to bring peace and harmony to the city. Everyone was careful to express thoughts and feelings that were universal rather than particular. n AMERICAN PEACE Corps alumnus Elana Rozenmann, who since coming to Israel has been active in interfaith groups and in organizations dedicated to fostering understanding and mutual respect between Israelis and Palestinians, is very friendly with the family of Sheikh Abdel Aziz al-Bukhari, who were extremely worried over the past month because some of their closest relatives live in Gaza. Fortunately, though damage was done to the house of their relatives, they emerged unscathed. Rozenmann introduced the Sheikh's wife to Beverly Barkat in an effort to interest her husband, Mayor Nir Barkat, in working with interfaith groups. Socialite and society photographer Sara Davidovitch has taken it upon herself to introduce the mayor's wife to all the who's who in Jerusalem she may not have met before. Davidovitch, who is never without a camera, makes a point of photographing VIPs, whom she introduces to each other. n SHALSHELET FOUNDER Dr. Pessy Krausz has imbued many Jerusalemites with the concept that marriage counseling should start not when a marriage is in trouble but even before the couple stand under the bridal canopy. Couples who seem to get along fine before the wedding discover all sorts of intolerable things about each other very soon after the nuptials, and the marriage ends in divorce, adding to Israel's record figures that were released this week. Krausz and the many volunteers with professional backgrounds that she has gathered around her over the years believe that premarital counseling brings a lot of unrevealed characteristics out into the open and enables couples to deal with them before they become serious problems after the wedding. Shalshelet also does counseling for married couples who are experiencing difficulties in their relationship. Most of the Shalshelet volunteers also support the not-for-profit organization financially. Krausz is one of those people who believe that a pat to the ego never goes astray and that people who volunteer time, talent and money should be publicly recognized. So she got them together this week at the home of Shalshelet volunteer Leah Grundman and, by way of expressing appreciation, brought in Rabbi Dr. Nachum Amsel and his wife, Judy, who are prime examples of marital harmony. In addition to the manner in which they conduct their lives, he sings and plays the guitar and she plays the violin. The two get people singing traditional Jewish songs that include a lot of Carlebach and set the mood for generosity of both spirit and pocket. Krausz announced two new Shalshelet projects. One is counseling in English, and the other is establishing a marriage brokering unit. n IT'S DIFFERENT strokes for different folks. Many individuals and companies donate merchandise to a family or a community that's in trouble, some explore the needs in advance and give accordingly, while others give in accordance with what they would want if they were in the same boat. US clothing manufacturer and distributor Morris Goldfarb, the chairman of the G3 Corporation, decided that the people of Sderot might want to own designer coats. So he shipped 2,000 of them to Israel with labels that include Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Guess, Nine West, Kenneth Cole and other well-known names. The distribution was initiated and organized by the OneFamily Fund which, working together with social welfare authorities, distributed the coats to victims of terrorism in Sderot and other communities in the Gaza Strip. G3 company representative Sam Deutcher was on hand for the distribution. n WHEREAS SOUTH African Jews who had decided that they no longer wanted to live in South Africa used to head mainly for Australia, the country of preference has now become Israel, despite the perils and the language problems. Actually, language is not so big a headache because many of those coming to Israel are Jewish Day School alumni and have also been educated in Zionist youth movements. A documentary on the exodus of South African Jews was prepared by Yaron Dekel, who for several years was the Broadcasting Authority's representative in the US before returning home to host It's All Words on Israel Radio, as well as resume his former role as a political commentator on radio and television. Dekel, who was recently awarded the prestigious Sokolov Prize for his documentary feature on different streams of American Jewry, was considered to be an ideal person to document the South African Jewry story on the eve of the aliya of close to some 100 South African Jews. But it's not only people who made aliya. The few remaining Jews of the small South African community of Messina have donated their Torah scroll to the synagogue of the Rehabilitation Hospital at the Sheba Medical Center. On hand for the traditional ceremony that accompanies the installation of a Torah scroll were members of the dwindling Messina Jewish community; senior Sheba Hospital personnel, dignitaries and patients; and leaders of the South Africa Zionist Federation - who coordinated the donation.