Grapevine: Nonagenarian jet-setters

Now in their nineties and jet-setters from way back, neither former president Shimon Peres nor former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger have allowed advancing age to spoil the fun of flying.

Henry Kissinger and Shimon Peres in Toronto (photo credit: SOH)
Henry Kissinger and Shimon Peres in Toronto
(photo credit: SOH)
Though now in their nineties and jet-setters from way back, neither former president Shimon Peres nor former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger have allowed advancing age to spoil the fun of flying. Kissinger turned 93 last week and Peres will be 93 in August. The two of them got together in Toronto at the invitation of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. They have known each other for well over half a century, and in June 2012, Peres, on his return to Israel from the US after having been awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, awarded Kissinger the Presidential Medal of Distinction, an award that he introduced as Israel’s highest recognition for civilian service to humanity.
Unfortunately, even though the award does not bear Peres’s name, President Reuven Rivlin has chosen not to continue with it. Peres presented the award to Kissinger at an emotional ceremony in Jerusalem.
The two are scheduled to meet again this month when Kissinger comes to Israel to address the mid- June Herzliya Conference. Peres came home from Canada in time to attend the changing of the guard when Brig.-Gen. Hasson Hasson, whom he appointed as his military secretary in July 2008, stepped down to make way for Col. Boaz Hershkowitz of the Israel Air Force, who will serve as military secretary to Rivlin; and on Wednesday, Peres will receive a life achievement award from the Holon Institute of Technology.
Peres and Kissinger, along with MK Michael Oren, who was ambassador to the US, were in Canada as the key attractions for the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies annual Spirit of Hope fund-raiser at the Metro Toronto Convention Center. The event was attended by close to 2,500 people, who, led by Peres who was slightly off-key, sang “Happy Birthday” to Kissinger. Proceeds were in excess of $3.75 million. Guided by Oren, the two elder statesmen discussed the Oslo Accords, peace with Egypt and Jordan, and the Yom Kippur War.
Peres said of Kissinger: “Wisdom never ages, and I have a living example sitting on my right.” He described Kissinger as the “greatest statesman of our time.” On the lighter side, Oren lamented that after the many years he’s spent in Israel, he still speaks Hebrew with a distinct American accent; and for that matter Kissinger, who came to the US as a youth, speaks English with a heavy German accent; and Peres, who was a young boy when he came to Israel, still has a foreign accent. Peres said that although he may have been born in a foreign country, from the minute he came to Israel, he was reborn as an Israeli.
Co-chairman of the event Fred Waks revealed a little-known fact in Kissinger’s biography. During the Second World War, Kissinger was a member of the 84th Infantry Division of the US Army. Kissinger’s division liberated the Ahlem concentration camp near Hanover. Of 850 Jews who had been sent there, only 35 survived. “One of those 35 prisoners was my father,” said Waks in an emotionally choked up voice, adding that he finally had a chance to thank Kissinger for saving his father’s life.
■ AMONG THE other speakers coming from the US to address the Herzliya conference is World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, who last month presided over the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York, and who in addition to speaking at Herzliya will also deliver an address in Jerusalem in his capacity as this year’s laureate of the Guardian of Zion award.
■ LONGTIME HUMAN RIGHTS advocate, McGill University law professor and former justice minister of Canada Irwin Cotler has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by eminent Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has described Cotler as “the most important human rights activist in the world today.” If Cotler does indeed become a Nobel Prize laureate, it will be as much a feather in Israel’s cap as in Canada’s because Cotler and his Israeli wife, Ariela, also own a home in Jerusalem, where they spend a lot of time these days.
■ GETTING BACK to nonagenarians, former MK Geula Cohen, who came to the Knesset on Tuesday to watch her son Tzachi Hanegbi take the oath of office as a minister, more or less stole the show from him. A passionate legislator in her day, she has mellowed with time. As a former MK, she was permitted to sit in the plenum, and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, in a departure from the rules, permitted applause for her presence.
Many MKs, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, greeted her personally, and Netanyahu even posed for a photograph with her.
Cohen, who turned 90 last December, was a member of the Irgun and later Lehi. She was a thorn in the side of the British Mandate authorities, who arrested and imprisoned her, but she escaped.
■ ONE LAST word about nonagenarians: former defense minister Moshe Arens, 91, who is the chairman of Ariel University, joined members of the university’s board of governors who met this week with Rivlin. When everyone sat down, Arens was left standing, so he simply walked around to the second row of sofas lining the wall. People immediately moved to make room for him and urged him to come to the front, but Arens said that it didn’t matter where he sat. Eventually he was prevailed upon. Helmsley Trust trustee New York lawyer Sandor Frankel told Rivlin that he couldn’t believe that he was sitting two feet away from the president of Israel, and said how exciting that was for him.
What he didn’t say was that he served as a staff member of the White House Task Force on Crime. Some people are just ego immune.
■ ANYONE WHO wanted proof that coexistence is possible would have found it last Thursday at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv, where Jordanian Ambassador Walid Obeidat and his wife hosted a reception in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Jordanian Revolt against the Ottoman Empire and the 70th anniversary of Jordan’s independence.
Guests included religious and secular Jews, religious and secular Muslim and Christian Arabs, (including a few Palestinians), Druse dignitaries, Christian priests, Israeli soldiers in uniform, diplomats, businesspeople and personal friends of the hosts.
Seen mingling in the crowd were Deputy Minister for Regional Affairs Ayoub Kara, MKs Ahmad Tibi and Tzipi Livni, interfaith activist Rabbi Michael Melchior, Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, past and present directors-general of the Foreign Ministry Eytan Bentsur and Dore Gold, former Nazareth mayor Ramiz Jaraisy, former minister Yossi Beilin, head of the political division of the Defense Ministry Amos Gilad, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, and many others.
The chefs at the Dan Panorama are known for their presentation, and whenever an ambassador hosts a national event at the hotel, the chefs try to introduce some of the traditional cuisine from that ambassador’s home country. This time they outdid themselves. What a Middle East feast for both the eye and the palate! Because of the special importance of the two anniversaries, the Jordanian Embassy provided gifts for all of the guests, including the red and white keffiyehs associated with the Hashemite Kingdom. Many of the ambassadors present actually put them on as scarves around their necks.
Obeidat explained that the Jordanian flag is based on that of the Arab Revolt, with the black band representing the Abbasid Dynasty, the white the Umayyad, and the green the Fatimid. The red triangle or chevron with the seven-pointed white star in the middle is the symbol of the unity of the Arab people.
The seven points represent the seven verses of the first sura in the Koran, which advocate faith in the one God, humanity, humility, virtue, social justice and aspiration.
These principles are the beacon that set the way to independence, on June 10, 1916, said Obeidat, who credited the revolt to Sharif Hussein, the great-grandfather of King Abdullah, adding that Jordan had been founded on the religion and tolerance of the Hashemites, who were against extremism and violence. The revolt was not an isolated event in history, he said, but the beginning of a nation. Obeidat made the point that Jordan is moving forward, while other nations in the region are falling apart. Jordan has been blessed with wise kings, he said, describing the royal leadership as one of compassion that helps those in need. Referring to the number of refugees who have found a haven in Jordan, Obeidat said that Jordan has done more for peace, security and humanitarian aid than its size would suggest.
He also spoke of the importance of political solidarity, which is the only way to ensure cooperation, and in this context mentioned Jordan’s cooperation with Israel in water management, which will benefit both countries and the Palestinians as well.
He hoped to see this bilateral cooperation expand into the realm of energy, he said. As to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obeidat emphasized the necessity of meaningful negotiations and said that Jordan is deeply committed to a two-state solution along the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. He believes that a better future could be shaped for all concerned through evolution rather than revolution.
Obeidat scored a diplomatic coup in getting Rivlin to attend his Independence Day reception two years in a row. Rivlin began his greetings last year with a brief sentence in Arabic.
This year his remarks in Arabic were much, much longer, and Obeidat – who when asked last year about the standard of the president’s command of the language described it as “Ashkenazi Arabic” – could barely suppress the smile of amusement this time around, as the Arabic became increasingly Ashkenazi as Rivlin soldiered on.
Eventually switching to English, Rivlin reviewed the challenges confronting the region. “All over the Middle East, we face difficult challenges; the ongoing tragedy in Syria, the instability in Iraq, and the jihadist terrorism which dares to speak in the name of Islam, brings so many to seek refuge,” he said, as he praised the Hashemite Kingdom for facing all these challenges “with honor, with dignity, and with great national and human solidarity.” Rivlin hailed Jordan, in comparison with some of the other countries in the region, as “a unique example of a strong state, and a moderate state, whose moderation comes not come from weakness but from strength.
“Israel is proud to be Jordan’s partner and to stand at Jordan’s side, in promoting stability and quiet to our entire region,” Rivlin continued, as he noted the critical role played by Jordan over the last year in dealing with the violence in Jerusalem, “which is holy to all of us.” Rivlin emphasized that Jordan’s special status in Jerusalem will remain strong because “the State of Israel is fully committed to ensuring that this will not change.”
■ CROATIAN FOREIGN Minister Miro Kovac apologized profusely for being 15 minutes late for his interview with The Jerusalem Post, and had a somewhat amusing excuse.
He had given his suit for pressing to the laundry service at the King David Hotel, and the trousers had become separated from the jacket. It had taken a long time to find them, and Kovac had to wait because he felt disinclined to come to the interview in jacket sans pants. Reflecting on the increasingly close relations between Croatia and Israel, Kovac noted that Croatian Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic, Croatia’s first nonpartisan prime minister, who happens to be an expert in pharmaceuticals, was previously the chief financial officer for Teva Global Generics.
■ FORMER YESH Atid MK Pnina Tamnu-Shata, who is a lawyer by profession and a former Channel 1 journalist, now hosts a weekly phonein radio program on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet called Doing Justice, in which she deals with the problems confronting immigrants, be they newcomers or veterans. Among the more pressing problems is that of loss of identity – and it’s not the kind of loss faced by many Russian immigrants who were subjects of derision in Russia, where they were called zhid, and faced the opposite situation in Israel, where in some cases they suffered discrimination simply because they were Russian.
Tamnu-Shata has been consulted by several Ethiopian immigrants who were brought to Israel during Operation Solomon and who without explanation were deprived of their citizenship and given the status of permanent resident. When they went to the Ethiopian Embassy, hoping to have their Ethiopian citizenship restored, they were told that they are longer Ethiopia’s concern. They are now in Israel and therefore Israel has to take care of them. The fact of the matter is that they are stateless and cannot leave the country, even if they want to, because they have no identity. They are neither Israelis nor Ethiopians. One woman who has this problem and who somehow managed to get married said that one of her children does have Israeli citizenship and the other doesn’t. It seems to be a case of random decisions by Interior Ministry officials.
Tamnu-Shata, who is pursuing the matter, said that she knows of many other similar cases.
■ ACCORDING TO the political rumor mill, Rivka Paluch, who was adviser on haredi issues to prime minister Ariel Sharon, is returning to the Prime Minister’s Office as adviser on haredi matters to Netanyahu.
Paluch – who has long been an example of haredi career women, who also manage a family and a household – belongs to the Gur hassidic sect, has seven children, and has for more than four decades helped Jewish minority groups gain access to equal opportunities. She’s also president and CEO of an investment company, is engaged in real estate negotiations and has her own radio program. Another example of haredi woman-power is in the person of Rivka Ravitz, Rivlin’s bureau chief, who is the mother of 11 children, and has managed between pregnancies to earn herself a couple of university degrees. And then there’s Rabbanit Hadassah Ralbag, the mother-inlaw of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, who is the founder and director of the Biotechnology Institute for the Study of Biomedical Engineering.
■ BUT WHERE haredi and other Orthodox woman-power is really flourishing is in the field of Jewish learning, many areas of which were forbidden to women till Rabbanit Malke Bina arrived on the scene.
With a BA in Bible and history from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University, she arrived in Israel in 1971. She was among the pioneer teachers who believed that female students had a right to learn Talmud and Halacha. In 1988 she founded Matan. At that time very few women were learning or teaching advanced-level Torah and Jewish law.
Bina set the wheels in motion for a revolution that has taken hold and keeps spinning, enabling women to study Torah and other holy texts at the highest levels.
Wednesday, June 1, Matan student Yedida Lubin will honor the memory of her mother, Deanna Radin Lubin, on the 30th day of her passing, by delivering a Torah lesson at the siyum Seder Nashim of Matan Jerusalem’s Daf Yomi cohort. The siyum, meaning completion, will mark the completion of a cycle of the daily study of a page of Talmud. Other speakers include Sarah Baumol and Jordanna Cope-Joseph, Matan scholars and teachers. Daf Yomi is taught by graduates of the Matan Advanced Talmud Program, a group of women teaching women. The group, which learns five days a week at Matan, was feted in the international media when it celebrated the completion of the worldwide Daf Yomi cycle in August 2012 and immediately began the second cycle.
■ ON THE secular side of things, Nava Swersky Sofer, a lawyer and an entrepreneur and expert in the fields of technology and innovation, has been appointed by IDC Herzliya founder and president Prof. Uriel Reichman as managing director of IDCBeyond, the new innovative flagship program at IDC’s Adelson School of Entrepreneurship.
IDCBeyond, a yearlong academic program for holders of BA degrees plus any others, is designed to empower participants to develop and launch innovative ventures that apply exponential technologies to help solve 21st-century global challenges in the fields of technology, sustainability, globalization and biomedicine.
Swersky Sofer has more than 25 years of international experience as an entrepreneur and manager, an investor in venture capital and an expert in the fields of innovation and technology commercialization on three continents. She is a member of international forums for innovation and technology promotion, sits on the boards of directors of several companies and is a former president and CEO of Yissum, the technology commercialization company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The IDCBeyond curriculum will include interdisciplinary training in the fields of technology, biomedicine, globalization and sustainability, ideation process and the establishment of world-changing initiatives with the assistance of leading mentors from academia and industry.
IDCBeyond is intended for people with pioneering thinking, a strong passion for entrepreneurship and a background in the fields of science and medicine, engineering, computer science, business administration, design, architecture and a wide spectrum of other fields that demand thinking outside of the box .
The program, which was initiated by Reichman with the assistance of Prof. Yair Tauman, dean of the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship, and Dr. Yossi Maaravi, who will serve as academic director of IDCBeyond, is believed to be one of the first of its kind in the world, integrating an academic curriculum alongside a track of entrepreneurial initiative from the very first phase. At the end of the program, exceptional students will participate in an accelerator course and will be awarded access to venture capital funds and exceptional networking in order to elevate their initiatives. From the very beginning, participants will be supported and will work closely with leading industrial mentors throughout the entire program. The launch date for the program is October 2016.
■ IT’S VERY refreshing to find a politician who is excited about a diplomatic reception, as was the case with MK Yoav Kisch, who attended the Georgian Independence Day reception hosted by Georgian Ambassador Paata Kalandadze to mark the 25th anniversary of the restoration of his country’s independence. Kisch, who is the co-chairman of the Israel- Georgia Parliamentary Friendship Group, admitted frankly that this was the first time that he had attended a Georgian Independence Day reception.
What he may not have realized was that this was not a typical diplomatic reception in Israel in terms of the venue, which was the Riverside Restaurant at the edge of the Yarkon River. Aside from the constant flow of food and drink, there was a vocal sextet, dressed in Cossack garb, which had been specially brought from Georgia for the occasion. Each had a superb voice, and together they harmonized beautifully.
Both Kisch and Kalandadze spoke of the excellent relations between Georgia and Israel and of the 2,600- year heritage of Jewish life in Georgia.
Kalandadze, who early in his diplomatic career served as Georgia’s consul in Israel from 1998 to 2001, has seen many changes in his own country as well as in Israel. What gives him the greatest satisfaction is to see how Georgia has developed into a democracy. What pains him is that 30 percent of his country is still under Russian occupation.
■ APROPOS GEORGIA, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid is acquiring Georgian in-laws. Over the weekend his son Lior celebrated his engagement to Diana Levin, with whom he has been going steady for four years.
The bride and groom to be are both only 20 and will wait with the wedding until after they complete their army service. Levin, whose father is a lawyer and whose mother is a real estate agent, was part of Lapid’s junior campaign team. The engagement was celebrated at Supra, the popular authentic Georgian restaurant on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, and the festivities, including Georgian music, continued until a very late hour. In giving his blessings to the young couple, Lapid told them to remember that nothing in the world is more important than family. Everything else can sort itself out, he said.
■ FORMER MINISTER and longtime MK Meir Sheetrit and his wife, Ruthie, the well-known public relations and advertising executive, are one step ahead of the Lapid family. They hosted a henna ceremony at their home in Yavne for their daughter Naama prior to her wedding. Guests included Moshe and Pnina Edery, Mickey and Michal Gavrielov, Kobi Oshrat and MK Amir Peretz and his wife, Ahlama.
■ THERE IS great excitement in the Cypriot city of Karavas and in the Cyprus Embassy in Tel Aviv because one of the native sons of Karavas will be among the recipients on Thursday of the prestigious Wolf Prize.
Kyriacos Costa Nicolaou, who will receive the prize for chemistry, now lives in Houston, Texas, but that does not detract from his Cypriot roots, so much so that Ionnis Papaioannou, the mayor of Karavas, is coming to Israel to be present at the awards ceremony in the Chagall Hall of the Knesset.
Needless to say, Thessalia Salina Shambos, the ambassador of Cyprus, will also be in attendance.
■ WHAT IS the difference between an elected official and an appointed official? In Tel Aviv, and doubtless in other places as well, there is no age limit for an elected official, but an appointed official cannot continue to hold office after the age of 70.
Thus Noam Semel, who has been the director of the Tel Aviv Municipality’s Cameri Theater for almost a quarter of a century, and who is approaching his 70th birthday, this week tendered his resignation among loud protests from the theater’s actors and maintenance staff. GRAPEVINE • By GREER FAY CASHMAN