Grapevine: From Nepal with love

President Reuven Rivlin wants to hear eyewitness versions from people who were actually there.

President Reuven Rivlin (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
President Reuven Rivlin
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Everyone wants firsthand information about what is going in Nepal, and although President Reuven Rivlin is very well-informed, he still would like to hear eyewitness versions from people who were actually there.
As he continued to follow the developments in Nepal and the progress of Israel’s aid mission there, Rivlin on Wednesday hosted the children of Chani and Chezki Lifshitz, the Chabad emissaries based in Nepal who annually make headlines in the Jewish media for organizing and hosting the largest Seder in the world. With their parents still in Nepal assisting with recovery efforts, the children – Shmuel, Rivki and Yitzhak, aged between four and six – arrived at the President’s Residence with their grandmother Yehudit Fleischman and their Nepalese nanny Lolita, who lives with the family at the Chabad House in Kathmandu.
Rivlin, who has a very soft spot for children, welcomed them with the same delight he does his own grandchildren – and soon delved into his desk drawer for a box of chocolates, which he distributed among his guests. The president listened intently as they told him about their experiences over the days since the devastating earthquake, and their subsequent arrival in Israel. The children explained they were set to attend schools and kindergartens in Israel, from this week until the rescue efforts were nearer completion and they were able to return safely to their parents.
During their visit, Rivlin telephoned their parents in Nepal. In an emotional conversation, he told them, “The work you are doing for the whole world, and of course for the Israelis in Nepal, is extraordinary – from a Jewish, Israeli and universal perspective. The way you open your home and give others a sense of home in times of need is tremendous.”
The Lifshitzes thanked Rivlin for his heartfelt words and reassured him they were well, and so pleased to be able to reach out a helping hand to those in need. “This is our mission,” they affirmed. Rivlin then handed the phone to their daughter Rivki, who in a touching moment, asked her mother when they were coming to Israel. Chani replied, “Soon; there are still many people we need to help. We miss you very much, and we’ll see you soon.”
The president added, “Just as you open your home to the whole world, we are delighted to open our home to your children.
We will look after them, and through them extend to you our thanks.” Before leaving, the children were given a tour of the residence.
■ CONTRARY TO what was published in this column on Wednesday, there was indeed Foreign Ministry representation at the Freedom Day reception hosted by South African Ambassador Sisa Ngombane and wife, Thathanya.
Itzhak Gerberg, who heads the South African desk at the Foreign Ministry, admitted he had been contacted by some people who asked whether they should attend – and he had told everyone they should. Yet for all that, there were far fewer people than usual at the reception in the ambassador’s garden, although the African states were very well-represented.
There was no minister from the interim government but the gathering was addressed by Avi Granot, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Africa, who was introduced as “a friend of South Africa.”
Both Granot and Ngombane were careful in their addresses not to mention the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, though there was a hint in Granot’s speech when he said: “The time has come for South Africa to dissociate itself from various conceptions of the past which are redundant today, and focus more on the future rather than be attached to history.”
Granot said he was specifically referring to the South African approach to the situation in the Middle East, and declared it was high time for Pretoria to zoom out from its one-sided pro-Palestinian stance, which constrains the development of relations with Jerusalem. To do so, he said, would be beneficial to both countries.
“It is no secret that we in Israel are disappointed by the lack of progress in our bilateral relations, as well as the unbalanced official position and statements of South Africa that ignore the complexities, changes and new challenges in the Middle East – and make it more difficult for South Africa to a play a significant role in this part of the world,” Granot professed.
Ngombane said that South Africans all over the world had gathered to celebrate the 21st anniversary of Freedom Day, “the triumph of good over bad.” It was an opportunity to salute not just the courage of South Africa’s leaders, but also “the people who not only stood by us, but sat with us in the trenches.”
Most of the ambassador’s address was confined to two issues – what he regarded as false accusations of xenophobia against South Africa, and what is being done to remedy the country’s power outages. With regard to xenophobia, he was referring in particular to violent attacks against foreign nationals stemming from the fear that immigrants, many from other African countries, are depriving South Africans of their livelihoods.
Indeed, violence in Durban last week led to seven reported deaths. The South African government is appalled by the violence, has condemned it and has taken action against the perpetrators, said Ngombane, who explained that the unrest was sparked by an employer who had fired striking workers and employed scab labor from another country at significantly lower wages.
Millions of people in South Africa are in pain because they are being accused of xenophobia, he maintained. While many of the immigrants are honest, hard-working people, there are those who engage in human trafficking and drug peddling, he noted.
Ngombane may just as well have been talking about south Tel Aviv. The attitude to cheap-labor immigrants is almost identical, and just as many of the Africans who find their way to south Tel Aviv have entered Israel illegally and cannot supply the documents to warrant their continued stay in the country, the same is the case with South Africa.
According to the ambassador, South Africa will impose tougher border controls and will seek cooperation from other countries to prevent the entry of illegals.
■ AMONG THE members of government present at the South African reception was Vered Swid, who heads the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women in the Prime Minister’s Office. Swid, who had a birthday last week, was pleasantly surprised when as a gift, her team was singled out as worthy of a prize for its work in promoting women to positions in the decision-making process, as members of boards of directors of state-owned companies and as people to be consulted on numerous issues on TV current affairs programs. The bottom line is that women now have greater visibility and greater influence.
Swid will also be among the speakers at a May 15 fund-raiser for the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel.
■ JOURNALISM CAN be a dangerous profession – and not just because certain readers, listeners or viewers don’t like what a journalist reports and take some form of malicious action to indicate their displeasure.
Journalists covering battle zones risk getting killed, as do those who cover organized crime.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 61 members of the press were killed in 2014 and 21 since the beginning of 2015; some of these journalists had also worked in Israel prior to going further afield.
To pay tribute to the memories of all journalists who lost their lives as civilians on active duty, Jerusalem Press Club director Uri Dromi has invited Jerusalem-based journalists to come to Djanogly Hall in the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center in Mishkenot Sha’ananim this coming Sunday, May 3, at 6 p.m., to speak about colleagues who have been killed while carrying out their duties; the date happens to be World Press Freedom Day. There will be a moment of silence to honor the memory of the fallen journalists.
■ THE WORLD Jewish Congress’s Theodor Herzl Award was conferred this week on Lord George Weidenfeld, the 95-year-old statesman, scholar, publisher and philanthropist.
The event fell a few days short of the 155th anniversary of Herzl’s birth, which will be on May 2.
The award was presented by WJC president Ronald Lauder at a gala dinner at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The award recognizes outstanding individuals who work to carry forward Herzl’s ideals for a safer, more tolerant world for the Jewish people.
In making the presentation, Lauder said: “There are some people in our world – just a few – who have the courage and temerity to speak out when they see injustice.
George Weidenfeld is one of these rare men.” He recalled having worked with Weidenfeld to expose to the world former UN secretary-general and Austrian president Kurt Waldheim’s Nazi past, also underscoring his “constant efforts on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Lord Weidenfeld of Chelsea was born in Vienna in 1919 and immigrated to London following Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938. During World War II, he worked with the BBC Overseas Service and in 1948, co-founded the publishing firm Weidenfeld & Nicolson; in 1949 he was appointed chief of cabinet to president Chaim Weizmann.
Weidenfeld was knighted in 1969 and recognized as a life peer in 1976. He is honorary chairman of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s board of governors, where a chair in comparative European literature was established in his name; he has also been a member of Tel Aviv University’s board of governors and been involved with the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
Previous recipients of the WJC Theodor Herzl Award include president Shimon Peres, Elie and Marion Wiesel, US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and, posthumously, US president Ronald Reagan and publishing house founder Axel Springer.
■ THIS PAST Wednesday was International Dance Day, first introduced in 1982 by the International Dance Council, to create greater awareness of dance and the possibility to build cultural bridges between nations through the art form. The IDC is an umbrella organization for all forms of dance within UNESCO.
Within the framework of International Dance Day, the Cyprus Embassy in collaboration with the Egomio Cultural Center hosted a Dance-Bridges Cyprus-Israel event at Jaffa Port’s Warehouse 2, in the presence of Cyprus Ambassador Dimitris Hatziargyrou, with performances by Elena Christodoulidou and Amfidromo Chorotheatro of Cyprus and Rachel Ardos of Israel. There was also a screening of Antonis Skordilis’s documentary film Dance Bridges.
■ NOTHING IS forever. Iconic coffee shops that were once the in-places for politicians, artists, socialites and bohemians such as California, Kassit, Piltz and Roval in Tel Aviv have all faded into the dust of history, to be dragged out of newspaper archives only when one of their famous patrons dies. The demise creates yet another opportunity for nostalgia and the perpetuation of myths surrounding the particular establishment.
Only a little over a week ago it was announced that Cafe Tamar, another iconic Tel Aviv coffee house that has been operating on Sheinkin Street for 74 years, will close down in June. Its 90-year-old proprietor Sara Stern, who has been the owner for 60 of those 74 years, no longer has the energy to keep it going and her grandchildren – who include Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nahmias- Verbin – have no desire to take over, even though Café Tamar has been their second home since they were born.
Located close to the now-defunct Davar newspaper, Café Tamar was often the venue for editorial meetings, but it also had permanent plastic chairs for writers, composers, poets and painters – who often presented Stern and her late husband with one of their creations in lieu of payment for outstanding debts. The walls of the coffee house are adorned with sketches and paintings as well as photographs of some of the well-known clientele, who frequented and in some cases continue to frequent the establishment.
There is also a relatively large memorial to assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who also drank coffee there from time to time or ate one of Stern’s culinary concoctions.
Only a week after the announcement of the closure of Tamar, with veteran Tel Avivians still reeling from the shock, came another announcement that yet another Tel Aviv icon, Beit Sokolow – the official headquarters of the National Union of Israel Journalists, as well as of the Tel Aviv Journalists Association – had been sold and will be part of the redevelopment of Kaplan Street. The NUIJ disclosed that the building had been sold to the Reality Real Estate Fund and Phoenix Holdings Ltd. for NIS 172 million, with a possible NIS 8m. increase if the buyers exercise additional rights to those spelled out in the contract. The ground floor has been designated for preservation but the new owners will build a 17-story tower on the site, which given the rapid changes in the Tel Aviv skyline, is not terribly tall – but will certainly change the whole concept of Kaplan Street.
In Jerusalem, Beit Agron – named for founding editor of The Jerusalem Post and subsequently, mayor of the capital Gershon Agron – is also undergoing a major change, as is Hillel Street where it is located. Once the home of the vast majority of foreign media offices located in Jerusalem, it lost most of its tenants when the Government Press Office and several media outlets moved to Malha. Some also moved to the Jerusalem Capital Studios building, where the Post has also taken up two floors.
Meanwhile, Beit Agron is undergoing renovation to change its identity from a journalists’ house to student dorms, and across the road, the controversial Museum of Tolerance, built in an Arab cemetery, is on the way to taking shape.
■ WHEN FASHION stylist Sandra Ringler hosted a surprise 70th-birthday for her mother modeled on the popular television show This Is Your Life, one of the guest at the high-class Tel Aviv hotel where the event was held was Sara Netanyahu – who not only showed up but delivered a moving birthday greeting to the guest of honor. Part of the reason is that without Ringler’s mother, there wouldn’t be Ringler – and the remarkable improvement in the prime minister’s wife’s appearance might not have occurred.
Ringler, who is Netanyahu’s personal fashion stylist, spoke about the birthday party at the special Golbary show for fashion bloggers at the company’s flagship store in the Golden Mall this week, which featured seven mix-and-match creations for businesswomen on the move. Ringler was so impressed by what she saw that she purchased several items from the collection for herself. Brothers David, Yaacov and Moshe Golbary naturally gave her an appreciable celebrity discount, which nearly all fashion and cosmetic companies give to celebs.
In addition, they gave her a gift for her mother – a bottle of perfume. Like many fashion houses, Golbary also sells its own brand of fragrances.
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