Grapevine: Dedicated to outreach

Not every Tel Aviv hotel that gets a face-lift merits a visit by Mayor Ron Huldai.

Huldai and Fattal 521 (photo credit: Yoni Reif)
Huldai and Fattal 521
(photo credit: Yoni Reif)
■ Even though it is surrounded on both sides by luxury hotels, Tel Aviv’s Kikar Atarim is a very seedy place that continues to attract drug and alcohol abusers, pimps and prostitutes and some of Tel Aviv’s homeless. It doesn’t seem like an area in which there would be an institution of Torah learning and prayer. But it’s precisely because Aish HaTorah practices outreach and wants to be accessible to all strata of Jewish society that its new premises are located there. This week Aish HaTorah attracted a lot of attention with the dedication of a Torah scroll donated by Gerald and Judith Ziering of Jerusalem in memory of their respective parents. The couple happen to be the parents of Rabbi David Ziering, who is the director of Aish Tel Aviv, which is located in a beautiful two-story circular building that faces the sea on one side and two nightclubs on the other.
Although Rabbi Ziering had a hard time scrambling together a minyan for Minha services, by Maariv prayers, the whole place was buzzing, with guests from different parts of the country as well as visitors from New Rochelle, New York, where the Zierings lived before making aliya and where they still maintain a home. Also among the guests was Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who welcomed the presence of Aish as yet another vehicle for bringing the Jews of Tel Aviv a little closer to their heritage.
On Shavuot night, the Aish people sat on the upper floor of their building, which has an open roof made of a series of mushroom structures that never meet. At the large nightclub opposite, there was a huge party, but people coming out into the night air heard the singing of religious songs emanating from the Aish building and came to taste a little Torah and to help themselves to some of the free food. Rabbi Ziering and his colleagues have already had a modicum of success with their outreach program, which includes Friday night dinner with all the trimmings of religious observance.
Many Tel Avivians who have grown up in a totally secular environment are eager to at least familiarize themselves with some aspects of Jewish tradition even though they may choose to continue to pursue secular lifestyles.
■ Wednesday night this week was definitely a Russian night in more ways than one. Russian Ambassador Piotry Stegny, who is winding up a four-year posting as his country’s envoy to Israel, hosted a Russian National Day mega party at the Tel Aviv Hilton. The event was also an opportunity for him and his wife Margarita to say farewell to the many friends they have made in Israel.
On the other side of town, the Alexendrov Red Army Choir, with soloist Josif Kobzon, performed at the Mann Auditorium. Kobzon, 73, who is the son of Jewish parents, is also a politician who served for many years in the Duma, the Russian Parliament, where he was an influential figure and headed the Duma’s Cultural Committee from 2005-2007. He has been the recipient of numerous Soviet and more recently Russian honors, although in 1983 he was expelled from the Communist Party and castigated for publicly performing Jewish songs and promoting Israel on stage.
However, because of his enormous popularity he was exonerated the following year and he was awarded the USSR State Prize. In 2009 he was made an Honorary Citizen of Moscow.
■ Not every Tel Aviv hotel that gets a face-lift merits a visit by Mayor Ron Huldai, but like so many other Tel Avivians, Huldai was curious to see what had happened to the former Sheraton Moriah hotel on the Tel Aviv beachfront once it became Herod’s, and was delighted to accept the luncheon invitation of David Fattal, owner of Fattal Hotel Management, which manages Herod’s. The invitation included a tour of the totally renovated premises. Lunch was in the vintage-style coffee shop evocative of the 1930s when Tel Aviv was in its coffee shop hey-day.
Fattal told Huldai that in a few days, the hotel would open what is believed to be the largest and most luxurious hotel suite anywhere in Israel. Covering an expanse of 260 sq.m. and offering a panoramic view of the city and the sea, the suite will be available for $3,500 per night.