Grapevine: The outer reaches

Ever since the fatal Columbia crash there has been a deep connection between NASA and Israel.

EVER SINCE the fatal crash on February 1, 2003, of the US space shuttle Columbia, whose crew included Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, there has been a deep connection between NASA and Israel, including the participation of NASA representatives at the annual Ilan Ramon International Space Conference. Ramon's widow, Rona Ramon, has maintained her NASA contacts and brings NASA delegations to Israel to tour the country, to meet with President Shimon Peres, to meet with schoolchildren and, of course, to lecture at the space conference. This year's NASA delegation that came to participate in the fourth annual space conference included Dr. Garrett Reisman, who is something of a comedian and, in addition to being an engineer and an astronaut, is also Jewish. The New Jersey native is the first Jew to have lived in the International Space Station, which he reached via the space shuttle Endeavor. Just as it was important for Ramon to take Jewish ritual objects into space, it was equally important to Reisman to put up a mezuza on his bunk. When Reisman met with Peres, he brought him photographs of Jerusalem taken from outer space. DURING A visit to the offices of The Jerusalem Post last week, a staff member told Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu that she wanted to ask a question that he hadn't heard before. Netanyahu said that he'd heard them all. However, it was indeed a first time for this one. In the event that he wins the election, the staffer wanted to know whether Netanyahu, instead of going to live in the Prime Minister's Residence, which has become a fortress since he last lived there, could remain at his home, considering that his own private and well-protected house is only two blocks away. Netanyahu explained that it was the state that dictated where the prime minister lives, although he was aware that the groundwork had been done for construction of a permanent residence for the prime minister in the vicinity of the Prime Minister's Office. However, he didn't know how much progress had been made. The current fortress-like environment prevents demonstrators from congregating opposite the Prime Minister's Residence, although Hebrew reports of "mul Beit Rosh Hamemshala" would indicate differently. Demonstrations are held around the corner, out of the range of vision of the prime minister, though not always out of earshot. Thus when demonstrators gathered outside the residence to protest the continuation of Operation Peace in the Galilee when Menachem Begin was prime minister, he could see them and take note of the large numbers they posted of the daily death toll of Israeli soldiers. Demonstrators on behalf of Gilad Schalit, whose tent has been located for some weeks around the corner from the Prime Minister's Residence, also post large numbers each day recording the time he has spent in captivity - but Ehud Olmert doesn't see them. HEVRAT HAMATNASSIM, the umbrella organization of community centers which by law was established in Jerusalem and is headquartered in Malha, is about to move to the center of the country, something that Mayor Nir Barkat finds very disconcerting. At a time when Jerusalem needs to be strengthened as the capital, moving away from Jerusalem is the wrong thing to do, he says. Barkat is mobilizing all his resources to persuade the organization to stay put and is invoking its foundation law, which may or may not be enforceable. The law designated Jerusalem as the organization's home base. ORDINARILY MEMBERS of Jerusalem's Hazvi Yisrael congregation would have been somewhat dismayed by the absence of so many regulars at Shabbat services last week. But it's just as well that some of the congregants chose to go to a Shabbaton at the Israel Center, while others opted to hear cantor Ben-Zion Miller, who was conducting the service at the Great Synagogue instead of at his usual congregation in New York. That left room for the huge crowd that turned up for the bar mitzva of Shai Limontzik, the son of Lillian and Avraham Limontzik, who are on a frequent shuttle between Switzerland and Israel. Adult readers with plenty of experience were full of admiration for the flawless way in which Shai read both the Torah portion of the week and the Haftara. LATE LAST year Ella Jaffe, the grand lady of Jerusalem's Great Synagogue, had the joy of attending the weddings of two of her grandsons - siblings who were married within 10 days of each other to two sisters. Now another grandson, Ariel Jaffe, who lives in Ra'anana, is also about to get married, to Efrat Ariel, whose grandparents Sol and Barbara Liebgott live in the same apartment block as Ella. This will make life very easy for the young couple when they come to visit. Ariel is the son of Ze'ev and Debbie Jaffe, and Efrat the daughter of Aviad and Ayala Ariel. Both families live in Ra'anana but have strong ties to the Great Synagogue, where Ze'ev Jaffe is a board member and his brothers vice president and choir master. ONE OF the sure signs of the volume of aliya from France is the number of signs in French on business enterprises - sometimes to the exclusion of Hebrew, English or Russian; the number of notices in French on billboards and lamp posts; the ongoing appearance of French restaurants; the number of free publications in French stocked by newspaper vendors on Fridays; and the lilt of French being spoken on public transport. This week also saw an e-mail in French from former American Greta Ostrovitz, who used to run a popular mid-town restaurant in Jerusalem, Chez Gita, famous for its scones and huge variety of teas. Ostrovitz, who prior to coming to Israel spent 25 years as the director of information technology in corporate New York law firms, found running the restaurant a strain but promised to stay in the catering business. For a while she provided classic European food to an international clientele in Jerusalem, and now she's running the Culinary Institute of Jerusalem, which offers a variety of courses and workshops for people who want to improve their cooking skills. The Web site of the Institute is in English, but the e-mail announcing a new course led by pastry chef Claude Bensimmon, who has worked with great French chefs such as Pierre Herme, Christophe Michalak, Philippe Andrieux and Jean Michel Perruchon, was from L'Institut Culinaire de Jerusalem.