Grapevine: A transformation of note

Byrganym Aitimova, Kazakhstan’s permanent representative at the UN, will be coming to Israel on December 21 for a three-day visit.

Byrganym Aitimova (photo credit: screenshot)
Byrganym Aitimova
(photo credit: screenshot)
The many friends she has in Israel will be thrilled to know that Byrganym Aitimova, Kazakhstan’s permanent representative at the UN, will be coming to Israel on December 21 for a three-day visit.
Aitimova was Kazakhstan’s first ambassador to Israel. When she arrived in January 1997, she fit the stereotypical image of a product of the former Soviet Union: a solid-looking woman in a severely tailored suit that made her look like a commissar, and exuded the impression she meant business. She had never been an ambassador before, but had been through the ranks of the Communist Party machine.
Though not schooled in the airs and graces of diplomacy, she had learned the art of networking; as a greenhorn diplomat, she also knew the most important thing to keep in mind was, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
She proceeded to do just that, and wasn’t shy about asking the advice of other women in fashion and grooming. Aitimova was a quick learner, and very soon had a pareddown, svelte figure, sophisticated hairstyle and fashionable wardrobe, also picking up diplomatic charm. From Israel she went to Italy, where all these newfound qualities were enhanced – and even more so in the US, where Israelis who meet her from time to time marvel at the transformation.
Her changed manner and appearance belie her very sharp brain. Aitimova’s personal evolution was much admired in Israel, and she is bound to hear only complimentary remarks during her brief return.
■ BEFORE COMPLETING his term next month, Thai Ambassador Jukr Boon-Long and his wife, Kamolrat, generally known as Took, this week hosted a gala reception at the Tel Aviv Hilton in celebration of the 87th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s much-beloved monarch who has done so much to improve his country and to make life easier for his subjects. Boon-Long was proud to say that his king is the oldest and longest- reigning monarch in the world today.
The extent to which the king is loved was reflected in a small gesture by the ever-elegant Kamolrat Boon-Long, who after the playing of the royal anthem by a traditional Thai group of musicians, curtsied in front of a portrait of the king.
Both Ambassador Boon-Long and Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, who represented the government, mentioned how pleased they were that the celebration was taking place during the 60th-anniversary year of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Thailand and Israel.
The two also spoke of the special cooperation between the two countries in healthcare matters. The ambassador specifically noted the cancer research cooperation between Hadassah and Rambam Medical Centers and Thailand’s Chulabhorn Research Institute, presided over by Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol, a doctor of chemistry who is the daughter of the king and Queen Sirikit.
In these and other areas of cooperation, Boon-Long noted, Israel sends its most experienced experts to Thailand to share their know-how. He looked forward to increased economic relations between the two countries and also mentioned the success of cultural exchanges, especially during the 60th anniversary year – in which people in many parts of Israel were introduced to Thai cuisine, classical dance and music, and Thai kickboxing.
At the king’s birthday ceremony, there was a striking display of Thai textiles made up into traditional Thai garments, and a similar exhibition is on view at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design.
Deviating momentarily from her written speech, Livnat expressed warm appreciation for the textile exhibition and the marvelous exhibits of sculptured fruits and vegetables, as well as for the musicians who were playing ancient traditional instruments; all of this, she said, contributed to making the evening special.
She noted that Thailand was among the first countries to recognize Israel, and has maintained diplomatic relations throughout.
Livnat commended Thailand for the increasing economic role it plays in Asia, and noted that the volume of trade between Thailand and Israel is in excess of $1 billion per annum. She was particularly warm in her praise of the thousands of Thai citizens who work in agriculture here, and who continued to work with dedication during Operation Protective Edge.
■ IN HIS address at the awards ceremony against human trafficking on Tuesday night, President Reuven Rivlin had intended to say in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that now is not the time for elections. But, presumably primed by Netanyahu that he was going to fire finance minister Yair Lapid and justice minister Tzipi Livni, he decided not to say anything about elections. When reporters tried on Thursday to get him to comment, he refused on the grounds that his advisers had told him to refrain from doing so.
■ EARLIER ON Tuesday, Rivlin joined the traditional olive harvest, in which bar mitzva boys and bat mitzva girls come to the President’s Residence to harvest olives from the trees in the president’s garden. This year, there were 30 youngsters from Kibbutz Magal and 20 from Kfar Adumim, a mixed secular and religious community where residents live in harmony despite their differences.
Rivlin told the youngsters that as a boy in the Scouts he’d been to Kibbutz Magal, and was delighted to see third-generation kibbutzniks from there in his garden. The harvest is important, he said, because the olive branch is one of Israel’s national symbols and is doubly significant during this month of Kislev – in which the celebration of Hanukka symbolizes the oil left in the Temple.
During trips to the Galilee, he revealed, he had learned from Druse and Arab olive growers that they do not use the regular Israeli method of harvesting olives, which involves poking the branches with long sticks so the olives fall to the ground. The Druse and Arabs say olives are a blessing and therefore, one should not hit the branches of the tree.
Instead, they gather around the trunk and push it so the branches sway and the olives drop of their own accord.
This is a lesson that people should learn in their relations with each other, said Rivlin.
When joining the youngsters in using the regular method of harvesting with sticks, he urged them to be gentle.
Among Magal’s products is olive oil, which the kibbutz exports in addition to its domestic sales; the youngsters brought a gift package of olive oil with them. The kibbutz also grows almonds, which were included in the package.
The president’s wife, Nechama, who was happy to receive the gift, has a reputation for being a good cook – so the olive oil is unlikely to go to waste.
■ SOMEWHAT YOUNGER children were guests at the President’s Residence the following day, when Rivlin and his wife hosted firstgrade children and teachers from the Hand in Hand bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school in Jerusalem, which over the weekend had been subjected to an arson attack. The Rivlins spent time with the youngsters and staff, and made sure they were well-nourished with morning snacks. They also helped the children create a banner saying, “Hand in Hand, we will continue together in love and peace,” with the text in Hebrew and Arabic.
As the kibbutz and Kfar Adumim children had done the previous day, those from Hand in Hand played soccer in the residence’s garden.
The first lady read Yonatan Yavin’s story about a cat to the children, whose teacher Aliah Hussein translated it into Arabic. Later, the president joined them and said how happy he was to welcome them – because they are living proof that Jews and Arabs can live side by side in peace. “We must not let difficult experiences – such as you have been through – harm our belief in our ability to live together.”
The children shared their reactions to the fire with the Rivlins, explaining how upset they were over the loss of personal items that had been destroyed. Among the adults accompanying the children were school principals Nadia Cnaana and Arik Sporta, as well as classroom and art teachers.
■ WHEN THE Knesset passed the bill of then-communications minister Gilad Erdan calling for the dissolution of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, there was a lot of publicity about not making staff changes during the period the IBA was being dismantled. However, changes keep taking place all the time.
Among the most recent is the decision by Shimon Alkabetz, who heads Israel Radio, to appoint permanent program hosts to the popular morning program It’s All Talk, which delves into current affairs beyond the headlines.
For quite some time there has been a roster of program hosts on different days of the week, adding to the perceptions of and perspectives on any news-oriented situation.
But Alkabetz has decided that not only will there be permanent hosts, but two hosts at a time instead of one – which may add to the body of views expressed, since radio and television hosts often insert their views into a question; but could possibly detract from the time available to interviewees.
This has become one of the annoying aspects of several talk shows on Israel Radio, where just as the interviewer is saying the most interesting things about his or her subject, the interviewer cuts them off and says, “That will do for us.”
The permanent team on It’s all Talk is comprised of Adi Meiri and Benny Teitelbaum.
Ayala Hasson, who heads the Channel 1 news division, will continue to host the Thursday program together with veteran political commentator Hanan Krystal.
Meiri has been the longtime police reporter for Israel Radio, and has some amazing scoops to her credit; she has also engaged in current affairs interviews on Channel 1. Teitelbaum, a prize-winning broadcaster, started his career at the IBA some 20 years ago, initially working as a researcher for Channel 1’s Second Look program. He has since been the reporter on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, covering beats such as social welfare, justice, police, political parties, the Knesset, the Jewish world and international media.
Just by chance, the date set for the next Knesset elections – March 17 – coincides with that of driving the final nail into the coffin of the IBA.
■ INTERVIEWED ON Israel Radio about his new book 669, which tells the story of missions of the search-and-rescue units of the Israel Air Force, author Itay Ilnai told Liat Regev that among the famous people who had been rescued were Prof. Eytan Sheshinski, Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Yisrael Aumann and Prof. Benjie Weiss. Up until recent years, all three engaged in rappelling in the Judean Desert and were rescued several times by 669. In fact it happened often enough, Sheshinski confirmed to Regev, to merit an offer of frequent flier membership.
■ FRIENDS OF the Rabin Medical Center at the Beilinson Campus raised in excess of NIS 7.5 million at their annual gala at the Tel Aviv Hilton. Proceeds were dedicated to the cardiology department, which treats 6,000 cardiac patients a year and whose senior physicians, Prof. Ran Kornowski and Prof. Dan Arvut, were on-hand.
The event was organized by Pini Cohen, chairman of the Friends; and Orli Maskin, who together with Dr. Eyran Halpern received all the guests. Halpern presented a special award of a statuette by artist Menashe Kadishman to Varda and Boaz Dotan, in appreciation of their outstanding and continued support of the Rabin Medical Center.
Among the guests were Yuval Rabin, Bruria and Dudi Wisman, Yair Sarousi, Amos Yadlin, Gideon Hamburger and many others representing the cream of Israel’s industry and commerce.
Also present were Friends president Nava Barak and her husband, Shalom Zinger.
Barak wears more than one welfare-oriented hat, and in her capacity as director of Elem, which cares for at-risk youth, will this coming Sunday be part of the welcoming committee at yet another gala on behalf of Elem at Tel Aviv University’s Smolarsz Auditorium – with particular emphasis this year on young girls who have been victims of violence and sexual assault.
Invitees included outgoing Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen, and it will be interesting to see whether he attends once he no longer has the ministerial portfolio.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai is also among the invitees, as are Bank Hapoalim stalwarts Yair Sarousi and Zion Keinan, who either separately or together are at several such events in any given month.
As has been mentioned previously in this column, the major players in Israel’s economy, so frequently castigated by social justice commentators and finance reporters, are also major supporters of literally hundreds if not thousands of philanthropic projects – which, in some cases, would never get off the ground without their financial input. There is more than one side to every story, and while criticizing some of these people for what may be perceived as poor labor relations, price exploitation and other sins, one should neither overlook nor forget their contributions to society on so many different levels.
■ ALSO AMONG the Elem invitees are Moshe and Pnina Edery, who are at the top of the totem pole in Israel’s film industry. Moshe Edery has just returned from Bulgaria, where together with lead actors Moni Moshonov and Alex Ansky, he attended the premiere of Bulgarian Rhapsody, the first Israeli-Bulgarian co-production. The film, which was Bulgaria’s entry for best foreign language film at the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood, is a Jewish love story set in Bulgaria in 1943.
■ ISRAEL AMBASSADORS Club president Yitzhak Eldan, a former chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry, was talking to a group of ambassadors at a cocktail reception this week when it transpired that nearly all of them were from coffee-producing countries in Asia, Africa and South America. An idea was instantly born to have a coffee-tasting event in mid-January, in which each ambassador will bring a sack of coffee to Coffee Love in the Tel Aviv Port, as a special treat for coffee connoisseurs. Spontaneous enthusiasm is a rarity, but all the ambassadors from coffee countries loved the idea – and may even herald a new tradition, which could spread from Israel to other parts of the world.
■ WHILE COUNTRIES across Europe have introduced intensive Holocaust studies in schools – to correct gaps in knowledge of history; to acknowledge the complicity and guilt of a previous generation in some cases; and to combat current anti-Semitism – both the perpetrators and victims are fading from our midst. To enable younger people to meet with remaining Holocaust survivors and hear their personal stories, the Association of Czestochowa Jews in Israel has arranged, in response to many requests, for three Holocaust survivors to meet with whomever is interested in hearing first-person accounts, and tell their stories and answer questions.
The meetings will begin at the Or Center for Holocaust Survivors and Heroes, 54 Ben- Eliezer Street, Ramat Gan on December 23 at 5:30 p.m. with Shmuel Willenberg, believed to be the last survivor of Treblinka. The event will coincide with the lighting of the seventh Hanukka candle – which in Willenberg’s case is also symbolic, in that he was both victim and hero. After escaping Treblinka, he fought against the Nazis with the Polish resistance forces.
On January 20 Yitzhak Szajn, who spent all of the war years in Czestochowa, will relate what transpired in both the large and small Czestochowa ghettoes.
On February 24 David Brauner, who was in the Czestochowa Ghetto as well as various concentration camps, will share his memories – which include a chance meeting with his sister during the war. He will also discuss the fate of a Torah scroll that was in his family’s home at 6 Aleja Street.
Autobiographies by Holocaust survivors are often very moving, but not quite as moving as actually hearing from survivors what they endured, and what it was that enabled them to withstand and survive.