Grapevine: Time out from the rat race

HIS MEGA deals in a variety of business enterprises around the world still leave billionaire businessman and philanthropist Lev Leviev with sufficient time to perform his duties as president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States and president of the Bukharan Jewish Congress. Leviev was in New York this week, and on Sunday gave the lay leader's address at the gala banquet of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries that was attended by some 4,500 people. Leviev, who supports Chabad and Bukharan Jewish projects mainly in the CIS, but also in Israel and the US, reportedly donates some $30 million each year to charity. His philosophy is that the more he gives away, the more he makes - and so far that seems to prove true, because he's listed by Forbes magazine among the 300 wealthiest people in the world. Leviev brings CIS emissaries and their families to Israel every year to spend a few days at the Dead Sea where they compare notes, plan new strategies and find a little time to relax and enjoy themselves. Businesswise, Jerusalemites will be pleased to learn that the former President Hotel on Rehov Ahad Ha'am, which belongs to Leviev-controlled Africa Israel, is finally going to be demolished, after falling into serious disrepair. Construction of a prestigious residential project on the site will begin some time in 2008. WELL-KNOWN Jerusalemite Ivriah Levine, who is honorary chairwoman of World Emunah, will be given an Emunah Lifetime Achievement Award at the Eighth International Convention of World Emunah that will be held at the Inbal Hotel from November 25-28. The presentation will be made at the gala dinner at which outgoing chairperson Hana Melamed will also be honored and Rabbi Yechiel Wasserman, the head of the World Zionist Organization's Department for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora, will be named Yakir World Emunah. The dinner will be attended by Mayor Uri Lupolianski and MK Zevulun Orlev, who is co-president of World Mizrahi. AMONG THE most prestigious families in Jerusalem for more than a century were the Valeros, who established the first private bank in Palestine. Haim Aharon Valero, the son of Ya'acov Valero who founded the bank, was elected to head the leadership of the Sephardi Kollel in Jerusalem and was the first of its leaders who was not a rabbi. For a quarter of a century he led Jerusalem's Sephardi community and socialized with diplomats and high society. The Valeros have taken their wealth elsewhere and are no longer as prominent in Jerusalem as they used to be - but they remain essential to the fabric of the history of the city's Jewish population. To celebrate the second century of the Valeros having settled in Jerusalem, the Valeros organized a family reunion - not in the capital but in Tzahala, with Valeros flying in from the US, England, France and Switzerland. Some Valeros still live in Jerusalem and Ron Valero, who runs a real estate firm in the capital, was master of ceremonies. One of the reasons for the get-together was the publication in English of Sephardi Entrepreneurs in Jerusalem: The Valero Family 1800-1848, by Ruth Kark and Joseph Glass. The book was previously published in Hebrew two years ago. Something that is not generally known is that the Yad Ben-Zvi Institute sits in the house that was once home to the Valero family, and that before it took on its present identity it served as the official residence for presidents Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and Zalman Shazar. JAFFA'S CALIPH Club was the scene toward the end of last week for a gathering of well-known figures, some of whom are icons of Israel's entertainment industry. The occasion: the 30th birthday of vocalist and fashion model Maya Buskila. Invitations had been issued to some 150 of the singer's nearest and dearest, but at least an additional 50 guests showed up. One of the highlights of the evening was a joint performance by Buskila and two of her closest friends, Maya Dagan and Adi Ashkenazi. Among the guests were Zvika Pik, Michal Ansky, Ido Tadmor, Tzvika Hadar, Harel Skaat, Agam Rodberg, Yuval Caspin and Orna Datz. MEMBERS OF ISRAEL'S business community, sporting personalities and other well-known figures, made a somewhat unique contribution to the Jaffa Institute, or as it is formally known, The Institute for the Advancement of Education in Jaffa. Instead of, or in addition to, any financial contribution they cared to make, they agreed to auction off their talents on behalf of this worthy cause in celebration of its 25th anniversary. The auction kicked off with a gala dinner on Tuesday at the Avenue in Airport City, with minimum bids announced before the auction. Most of the perks that were auctioned started off between $1,000 and $1,5000, but anyone who wanted to play tennis with Shahar Pe'er discovered that it would be a little more expensive to get into that racquet and be on the ball. That little adventure on the court was available for an opening bid of $5,000, with the added bonus of an autographed tennis racquet. Some of the other "items" for auction were an intimate evening for up to 50 people with former General Security Services (Shabak) chief Ya'acov Peri, who might have been a professional trumpet player if he hadn't decided to be a Middle Eastern James Bond. The opening bid for Peri was relative chicken feed - only $1,500. Divide that by 50 and it comes to only $30 per head. For those who wanted to do a little running around, there was the chance to bring four relatives and/or friends to shoot hoops with Tal Brody or to play soccer with none other than Avi Nimni - an opportunity that should give anyone a kick. Here again, the opening bid of $1,000 was way too low. For the less energetic, who would rather exercise their teeth than their feet, there was the opportunity to have celebrity chef Israel Aharoni prepare a gourmet meal in their homes. Here, there were no bargains at the start. The opening bid was $5,000. It was double that to commission Menashe Kadishman to paint the portrait of the winning bidder, who might discover that s/he bears an uncanny resemblance to a sheep. And for those who've dreamt of the chance for a face-to-face meeting with maestro Zubin Mehta, this too was on the auction block along with two tickets for a performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. The nature of the game made it just that much more fun and created a very positive spirit of competition.