Grapevine: A matter of semantics

“Don’t call me ‘First Lady.’ I am the wife of the president of the state, but I am not the ‘First Lady,’” insists President's wife.

Nechama Rivlin (center) accepts a bouquet from author Dina Kit (photo credit: PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON OFFICE)
Nechama Rivlin (center) accepts a bouquet from author Dina Kit
In press releases that pertain to Nechama Rivlin, she is referred to as the First Lady, a description that she personally eschews. This week when she hosted a group of women who had been victims of sexual abuse, and they addressed her as “First Lady,” she more than once insisted, “Don’t call me ‘First Lady.’ I am the wife of the president of the state, but I am not the ‘First Lady.’” Reuven Rivlin would not agree.
■ A SUPERB pianist and a popular standup comedian, Romanian-born entertainer Nansi Brandes had a somewhat different role on Monday night when he acted as master of ceremonies at the state dinner hosted by the Rivlins in honor of Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and his wife, Carmen.
In introducing Brandes to Iohannis, Reuven Rivlin praised him as one of the best standup comedians in the country and said that he’d been asked to refrain from exercising that particular talent at the dinner. In fact, the usually effervescent Brandes, bouncing backward and forward between Hebrew and Romanian, took his role for the evening very seriously. Rivlin said that the truth is that presidents like a bit of humor because that’s what makes the world go round.
Another entertainer with Romanian roots provided the entertainment for the evening.
Singer Marina Feingold grew up with Romanian music. Both her parents are from Bucharest. Former MK Colette Avital, who heads the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors, was born in Romania, and was very pleased to see Feingold, who had been a pupil of Avital’s mother.
Also present at the dinner was another Romanian-born former MK and minister, Michael Harish. MK Ilan Gilon, who was also born in Romania, was busy at the Knesset.
Another Romanian-born MK, Yitzhak Artzi, who died in 2003, was represented at the dinner by his daughter and son-in-law Nava and Noam Semel. She’s famous as a playwright, screenwriter and author, and he’s the longtime director of the Cameri Theater. The most famous member of the family, singer Shlomo Artzi, probably had a gig that night, which would have precluded his attendance.
Rivlin is off to Russia next week, and according to a well-informed Foreign Ministry source, he’s going on a very important mission. After he returns, he will have to get ready to host another head of state. Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos is scheduled to arrive in Israel on March 30. Who says that Israel is isolated?
■ WHAT PROVED to be an interesting coincidence at the state dinner was that the Romanian ambassador to Israel and the ambassador to Romania, who shared the head table with the two presidents and their wives, are both women and the dinner took place on the eve of International Women’s Day. The Romanian ambassador is Andreea Pastarnac and the Israeli ambassador is Tamar Samash, for whom this is her second stint in Romania. She was previously there as a counselor from 1988-1991.
■ WHILE MOST people who saw the film Lonely but not Alone saw it in the theater hall of the Begin Heritage Center, a select group of people was invited on the night before the Israel premiere to participate in a more intimate private screening at the Tmol Shilshom restaurant in Jerusalem’s Nahalat Shiva.
The seating was more comfortable at the Begin Center, but the atmosphere was more fascinating at the restaurant, with people drifting in at Jewish mean time. The place was packed, and a waitress came around with platters of freshly baked bread and savory spreads and glasses of fruit juice and punch.
The screening had been called for 8:30 p.m., but there were stragglers drifting in at 9 p.m.
when the film was finally shown.
The film is a documentary based on a short autobiography written by Gateshead Yeshiva alumnus Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cordozo, whose ordination is as Orthodox as anyone could wish, but whose ideas on transforming Jewish values and practices in keeping with changing times are decidedly unorthodox.
Cordozo is a rebel thinker who admires 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, whose radical ideas caused Spinoza to be ostracized by Orthodox rabbis in life and even in death. Cordozo believes that Spinoza should be introduced into Jewish studies curricula.
Cardozo’s mother was not Jewish, but came as a young woman to live with his father’s secular Jewish family, which observed certain Jewish traditions, which she absorbed.
During the war, she was able to save the family from the Nazis. She did not convert when she married Cordozo’s father, and it was only well after Cordozo himself had converted and persuaded her of the beauty of Judaism beyond what she already knew that she converted in her fifties.
Cordozo’s brother Dr. Jacques Lopes Cordozo, a retired dentist, specially came from Amsterdam for the official premiere of the film, and his Israeli-born daughter Nechama Atlas Lopes Cordozo, who is married to a rabbi and lives in Manchester, where she is very involved with the community, also came. Both appear in the film and participated in a Q&A following the screening.
What proved to be particularly interesting was the closeness between the two brothers, even though Jacques, who has twice married non-Jewish women, never converted but regards himself as Jewish. What bothers his brother the rabbi is that when the time comes for Jacques to meet his Maker, he will not be buried in a Jewish cemetery. This really troubles the rabbi, who even suggested that Jacques undergo a Reform conversion so that he can be buried in the Reform cemetery.
But Jacques, who feels Jewish and moves easily between Jews and non-Jews, doesn’t believe in religion and therefore is not ready to convert. There is a scene in which the brothers visit the Orthodox Jewish cemetery in which their parents are buried, and Jacques is wearing a kippa.
Although the rabbi is not particularly in favor of Conservative and Reform Judaism, he nonetheless advocates changes in halachic belief and practice, the most anti-establishment of which is on the issue of conversion.
He does not hold with the strictures that demand that a convert be an observant Jew, especially if that convert has a Jewish father.
The good news is that he’s not the only Orthodox rabbi who believes in zera Yisrael, namely the embracing of people with Jewish roots who may not be halachically Jewish.
■ HISTORY BECOMES the sacrificial lamb of progress and modernity. Every now and again radio and television programs dip into nostalgia and bring listeners and viewers the sounds and sights of yesteryear.
Where old buildings are still standing it is possible to conjure in the mind the scenes of past eras. But all over Israel now, high-rise towers, reaching ever upward, leave little or no sign of what was there before, and the imagination is hard-pressed to visualize something that existed as recently as 10 years ago, let alone before the establishment of the state.
A case in point is the old Tel Aviv opera house, which was previously the Kesem movie theater, which also served as the temporary home of the first Knesset until it moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The original building, constructed opposite the seafront in 1945, was a movie theater and was used as such for three years. It then became the temporary home of the Knesset, until the legislature moved to Jerusalem. After that it became the meeting place for the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipal Council, after which it was occupied by the Tax Authority. Then, from 1958 to 1982, it became the home of the Israel National Opera founded by Edis de Philippe. The Israeli Opera company was so successful that it attracted promising young singers from abroad, among them Placido Domingo, who went on to a great international career. The building was purchased in 1971 by a German-Jewish family of investors who wanted to tear down the whole structure and build a hotel in its place, but they couldn’t do anything for several years until the opera company vacated. In the final analysis, the hotel was not constructed, but a contract for a residential tower was signed with the Alrov Group headed by international businessman Alfred Akirov. The luxury premises are known as the Opera Tower.
The Nakash brothers, who grew up poor in Tel Aviv, went to New York, made a fortune in fashion under the Jordache label and branched into real estate, where they made an even greater fortune. They still have a strong attachment to Israel, where they have invested in tourism (including hotels), aviation, manufacturing, agriculture and naval ports. Now they want to build another hotel in the Opera Tower complex, and are negotiating for several floors in the commercial section of the tower, with the aim of incorporating a 50-60 room hotel. Aside from that, the Jordache Group, as their company is called, is also on the verge of opening three luxury hotels in the Galilee, Jaffa and Jerusalem.
■ TIMING IS everything, according to the pundits. Indeed, a brilliant idea before its time is rejected. One has only to look back to see how many scientific and medical theories that today are the backbone of scientific and medical advancement were initially rejected and even scorned. The right or the wrong timing affects almost everything we do.
Thus Channel 20 broadcaster Erel Segal, should have been more careful on his current affairs program The Patriots when he decided to mock Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir a week prior to International Women’s Day.
Wearing a long red wig, which was not quite as striking as Shaffir’s own fiery mane, Segal, to his own amusement and that of a group of panelists, referred to an article that Shaffir had written for Haaretz in which she stated that riding a bicycle makes her happy. Segal distorted the statement into one of crude sexual innuendo, and one of the panelists, lawyer Ari Shamai, whose claim to fame is his representation of Yigal Amir, the assassin of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, took male chauvinism to its next level by saying, “If Shaffir enjoys riding her bicycle so much, I wonder what MK Ayelet Nahmias Verbin enjoys doing.” Nahmias Verbin was recently videotaped in a parking lot in an altercation with controversial Likud MK Oren Hazan, in which there was a vicious exchange of name-calling.
Israelis are familiar with satire. In fact, politicians are almost happy to be spoofed in satirical television programs such as Gav Ha’uma and Eretz Nehederet, because it signifies their importance. But Segal’s sexist send-up of Shaffir went too far, even in a society that advocates freedom of expression, and was censured by male and female news anchors on other channels as well as by male and female MKs on both the right and the left of the political spectrum. Had he perhaps waited for the cucumber season, his distasteful act might have met with a less critical response.
■ APROPOS INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day, why is it that there are almost always male speakers at women’s events, whereas women are not among the speakers at male events, especially in religious society, and certainly in Jewish religious society, where they are often not even permitted to attend, let alone speak? Men were in the forefront of several IWD events so far this week and are listed in others scheduled for later in the month.
■ MERETZ CHIEF Zehava Gal-On tweeted this week: “Today Arbel was born – a sister to Carmel, making me a grandmother for the second time. The kind of happiness one never gets used to.” Almost instant congratulations came from MKs Karin Elharar, Miki Rosenthal, Shelly Yacimovich, Shaffir and Isaac Herzog, none of whom are members of Meretz.
■ ISRAEL’S SCIENTIFIC and technological brinkmanship can be traced to necessity being the mother of invention. Israel did not have the money to pay for its defense needs and therefore had to rely on its human resources. One of those resources was Prof.
Uriel Bachrach, who was a member of the military scientific nucleus from which Israel’s scientific and technological achievements have flourished. Bachrach was a member of the Israeli Science Corps, which was a unit of the fledgling IDF and was known as Hemed.
Because so little is known about Hemed, which in its time was a top secret unit, Bachrach decided to write a book about the subject, but the unit had been so secret, with so little documentation, that it took him 10 years to collect all the information he required. The book was initially published in Hebrew and was so popular that Bachrach was prevailed upon to produce an English edition, whose launch took place last week at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem. The full title of the book is The Power of Knowledge - HEMED: The Israeli Science Corps.
Bachrach gave a fascinating and somewhat humorous address about Hemed to a packed hall. Ben-Gurion had decided in 1948 to take a group of young scientists from the Palmah and to have them produce weapons and explosives. Hemed was headed by Ephraim Katzir, who was to become Israel’s fourth president. It was he who initially urged Bachrach to write the book. Bachrach is one of the few members of Hemed who are still living.
Ben-Gurion already knew in 1947 that there would be trouble as soon as the British would leave, and he was disturbed by the paucity of manpower and the scarcity of military equipment. The equipment that was available was already outmoded. Israel had at its disposal at the time 10,000 rifles, 972 mortars, 444 machine guns, 1,900 submachine guns, 383 pistols, 53,000 hand grenades and 30,000 soldiers, and was surrounded on all sides by hostile Arab armies. Ben-Gurion wanted Hemed to produce rockets.
The group knew practically nothing about rockets or explosives of any kind. For three weeks they studied the nature of explosives.
Bachrach gave a seminar every morning and every afternoon, the morning’s theory was translated into practice in the laboratory.
After that he was sent to a demolition course, after which he was ordered to design a fuse for a time bomb. He’d never seen one, and when he said so, he was told to be original and not to be afraid of the unknown. And that’s more or less how the “Start-up Nation” started out.
One of the other speakers was Dr. Reuven Eshel-Former, head of Rafael’s missile division. Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which accounts for a huge amount of Israel’s export revenues, is an outgrowth of Hemed, and Rafael products are in great demand around the world.
Former defense minister and foreign minister Moshe Arens, who is an aeronautical engineer, and who in 1971 was the recipient of the prestigious Israel Defense Prize, said that Bachrach had sent him both the Hebrew and English editions of the book, for which he was grateful because he had found a great deal of information of which he had previously been unaware. If someone of Arens’s contacts and background knew little about Hemed, Israelis with no connection to Israel’s defense industries could hardly be expected to know anything about the intellectual courage and heroism that brought Israel to be a world leader in defense systems and other spheres of science and technology.
In writing his book, Bachrach has certainly performed a great service.
■ IT’S NICE to know that with all the affairs of state on his shoulders, the ever-present Iranian nuclear threat, the unrest across the Syrian border and Islamic State almost on the doorstep, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can find time to accompany his wife on a visit to a boutique winery on the Golan Heights. To be fair, the prime minister is allowed to take time out to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary and spend a romantic weekend together with his wife.
He wrote on his Facebook page: “One of the first places in our beautiful country that Sara and I toured together was the ancient town of Gamla in the Golan Heights. We were there 27 years ago, before we were married, and today we returned to the place that speaks to our hearts. It is impossible not to fall in love with the place, with the wonderful view, and with our deep historical roots in the Land of Israel. A year after our first visit there, we arrived with my parents, of blessed memory, on the occasion of my father’s 80th birthday, and looked out to Gamla from above. Today we also visited the ancient synagogue of Umm el-Kanatir, in the southern Golan. I was excited to see how the synagogue is being restored. In its heart is the Torah ark made of the local basalt stone, decorated with the historical symbols of the Jewish people.”
The couple also visited the Bazelet HaGolan Winery owned by Yoav Levy, who after many years of amateur wine-making expanded his activities into a boutique winery. On March 3, which was their actual anniversary, the prime minister wrote on his Facebook page: “25 years together. Sara my beloved wife, happy anniversary.”
■ LAST MONTH, Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem master chef Itzik Mizrachi Barak, a native of the capital, was a semifinalist in the international Taste of Waldorf Astoria contest, and traveled to the Big Apple, where the finals were being held at the Waldorf Astoria New York. He was competing with four other semifinalists from Waldorf Astoria hotels around the world. Unfortunately, he didn’t win, but to get to the semifinals was nonetheless quite a triumph. The winning dish was Jing Roll, created by Waldorf Astoria master chef Benoit Chargy and James Beard Foundation Rising Star Semifinalist chef Erik Bruner-Yang at Waldorf Astoria Beijing. It will be featured on menus at 25 Waldorf Astoria properties worldwide.
This was the second annual Taste of Waldorf Astoria contest where JBF Rising Star Semifinalist chefs produced signature dishes for inclusion in Waldorf menus.
Barak is a well-known figure among Israeli chefs, and before joining the Waldorf he was the executive chef at the David Citadel Hotel. In fact, he literally crossed the road.
Although he may not have won the contest, he was considered a winner by Leesa and Leon Wagner, supporters of United Hatzalah, who took advantage of Barak’s presence in their city and hosted a private dinner for 30 invited guests, including United Hatzalah founder Eli Beer and the international director of operations for United Hatzalah, Dov Maisel. Just as there are no free lunches, there are no free dinners, but guests were happy to contribute to the organization’s lifesaving work and raised enough money to purchase 10 new, stateof- the-art ambucycles (ambulance-motorcycles).
Barak prepared the meal with the help of Main Event – Mauzone Caterers, and wines to go with each course were provided by Josh Schupak. Beer highlighted some of United Hatzalah’s achievements and voiced his appreciation for what the Wagners and Barak had done to make the fund-raiser such a triumphant success.
■ EVEN BEFORE his meetings Wednesday with Rivlin and Netanyahu, US Vice President Joe Biden, who landed in Israel on Tuesday afternoon, went straight from the airport to Jaffa to see his friend of long standing, former president Shimon Peres, at the Peres Center for Peace. The two discussed how to strengthen the US-Israel relationship, while knowing full well that it really depends on the outcome of the US presidential elections.
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