GRAPEVINE: When parenthood takes priority over politics

MK's attend IDC graduation and more.

Yisrael Beytenu MK Avigdor Liberman ‏ (photo credit: KOBI ZOLTAK)
Yisrael Beytenu MK Avigdor Liberman ‏
(photo credit: KOBI ZOLTAK)
Just after the beginning of last week, Amos Liberman, his siblings Michal and Kobi and their mother, Ella, were in the Knesset, glowing with pride, as Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman took the oath of office as defense minister. During the middle of the same week, it was the minister’s turn to put parenthood above politics when he went to IDC Herzliya to witness the graduation ceremony in which his son Amos was one of the graduates. Another proud political parent was Likud MK Anat Berko, whose daughter Tzlil was also a graduate. Altogether there were some 2,000 first- and second-degree graduates.
■ AFTER ATTENDING the Wolf Prize awards ceremony at the Knesset, President Reuven Rivlin later hosted a reception for the recipients at his official residence, and was most pleasantly surprised when one of the recipients, opera singer Jessye Norman, sang him a song that is not exactly an operatic aria – but she certainly brought down the house with “He’s got the whole world in His hand.” Rivlin was so overcome, that when she finished singing, he rose and seized both of Norman’s hands in his own in a gesture of heartfelt appreciation.
■ CLOSE TO 100 relatives and friends from Israel and the United States of Brooklyn- born Bess Glaster congregated in the grassy courtyard of Beth Protea in Herzliya to celebrate her 100th birthday. Still sound of mind and strong of voice, Glaster was also physically fit till last year when she had a fall, which confined her to a wheelchair, but that hasn’t really prevented her from doing the things she wants to do. The birthday party, organized by her daughter Libby Bergstein, was also a reunion of sorts in that Bergstein invited many of her friends from the Ramaz School and the Camp Massad in New York. All had known Glaster in their youth, and were only too happy to come. It was also obviously a family reunion in that relatives came from abroad, including Glaster’s grandson Daniel who, though born in New York, lives in Colorado, where Glaster herself lived for a time.
Always conscious of the need for documented evidence to prove status and ownership, Glaster instilled in her family the need to have a piece of paper. What do you give your grandmother for her 100th birthday? There was a huge stack of gifts, but Daniel came with three pieces of paper. The first was a copy of Glaster’s birth certificate testifying that she was the ninth child born to her Russian immigrant parents. In actual fact, she was one of 11 siblings. He also brought her a congratulatory letter from the Colorado Commission on Aging and another from the Colorado House of Representatives.
Among other guests who came from the US were Phyllis Aronson from Florida, who was on a first-time visit to Israel with her husband, Eli, and her brother Larry Blank who lives in California and who will be returning to Israel in September with a production of Guys and Dolls that will perform at the Tel Aviv Opera House. Phyllis Aronson’s mother, Dorothy, was Glaster’s best friend in high school, and the friendship endured the test of time until Dorothy died two years ago. But Glaster maintained contact with Phyllis, phoning her or sending her an email every Friday.
Also from the US was Ramaz alumnus Bob Vigoda, who has made quite a reputation for himself as a pianist in Washington, where he has been living for some 40 years. Toward the end of the party, he played some golden oldies for Glastner, who swayed in time to the music.
Vigoda is the son of the famous cantor Samuel Vigoda, regarded as one of the last great cantors of Poland, who sang his way across Europe till he got to New York.
Glastner came on aliya at age 88, carrying two tennis rackets. No other tennis player in Beth Protea was in her class, and in order to slow down she had to learn their game, which was carpet bowls.
Looking around, she said she was blessed to have so many relatives and friends who cared to come and celebrate with her. Several of the Ramaz alumni said that she had been an inspiration to them when they were young.
Glastner herself said that, looking back, she could not believe all the things that she had done. Her advice to everyone joining in her celebration was: “Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t think about it. Do it now. I got married a second time.”
■ THE MOST popular figure among some 1,500 people milling in the spacious back garden of the Italian Residence in Ramat Gan on the 70th anniversary of Italy’s Republic Day last Thursday was former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. He could barely move for the number of people who came to shake his hand, to tell him how much they admired him, and asked for selfies with him. The reception, hosted by Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo and his wife, Ornella, was the fourth and probably the last Italian National Day that they hosted in Israel.
Among the guests who came specially from Italy were Stefania Giannini, Italian minister of education, science and research; the president of Umbria Region; more than 60 academics who were involved in a number of conferences organized by the embassy with their Israeli counterparts; Chief Rabbi of Rome Riccardo Di Segni; and the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Renzo Gattegna.
The latter two, together with Giannini, Talo and Elena Lowenthal, the cultural attaché at the Italian Embassy, on Sunday presented Rivlin with an Italian translation of the Talmud.
The translation project began in 2010, at the initiative of Clelia Piperno, a law professor at the University of Rome, who brought the idea to the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research. Mariastella Gelmini, who was then the education minister, agreed to allocate €5 million to the project, which was developed under the supervision of Di Segni and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.
At the Republic Day reception both Talo and Giannini stated emphatically that there is no room for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in Italy. “To us in Italy, the notion of BDS is wrong and unthinkable,” said Talo. “We stand by our friends in Israel.”
Giannini said that Italy is “totally against the BDS campaign.”
Talo mentioned that natural resources can create bridges between nations and in this context said that Italy was interested in Israel’s gas resources. “We need all the gas you can offer,” he said. National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, who was representing the government, responded that Israel will be very happy to supply Italy with gas, “but you will have to pay for it,” he added. He also made some comments about the beauty of Italy’s mountains, lakes, coastal areas and women.
Among the other well-known faces in the crowd were opposition leader Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal; Likud MK Oren Hazan; former education minister Gideon Sa’ar and his wife, television personality Geula Even; former government minister Silvan Shalom, who is a neighbor and on the permanent guest lists of a series of Italian ambassadors; US Ambassador Dan Shapiro; Alona Barkat, the owner of Hapoel Beersheba; and business leaders Dan Propper, Sami Sagol and Eitan Wertheimer.
As always, the menu was decidedly Italian, and Alitalia donated two round-trip tickets to Italy which were raffled. Guests were entertained by the Arakne Mediterranean Dance Company. Ambassador of Nepal Prahlad Kumar Prasai missed out on the Italian reception because he left to return home that afternoon after completing his tenure, but Nepal was represented by deputy chief of mission Rameswor Paudel.
■ A FIRST-TIME guest at the Italian reception was amazed by the fact that there were no African diplomats among the diplomats milling in the crowd. The reason was simple. Talo was not the only ambassador celebrating his country’s national day that night. Ethiopian Ambassador Helawe Yosef Mengistu was celebrating his country’s national day in Tel Aviv, with Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara representing the government.
Previously, Kara also represented the government at Africa Day, and more recently at the Swedish National Day reception. It seems that Kara is quite happy to perform this task, whereas several ministers will do their best to wriggle out of it. Even though Kara’s English is halting, he prefers to use a language that everyone understands, rather than to speak in Hebrew. Some of the ministers whose English leaves a lot to be desired speak in Hebrew, after which a translation by a Foreign Ministry official follows.
■ THIS COMING Thursday Russian Ambassador Alexander Shein will host his country’s national day at the same venue as the Ethiopian reception. Almost invariably the minister representing the government at the Russian receptions is a native Russian- speaker, and this year will be no exception.
For several years in a row it has been Sofa Landver, but she had not yet resumed her previous ministerial position when the roster was compiled, and thus the minister of choice was Ze’ev Elkin, who held the immigrant absorption portfolio prior to Yisrael Beytenu joining the coalition. There is little doubt that Landver will be called to the stage anyway and, in all probability, so will Liberman, who is arguably the favorite minister of native Russian-speakers. Whenever he attends a reception hosted by the ambassador of one of the former countries of the Soviet Union, he is absolutely besieged by people who want to be in his company.
Presumably, some reference will be made to the visit to Moscow by Rivlin in March this year, and the one this week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met with President Vladimir Putin for the fourth time in the space of a year, this time ostensibly to join the Russian leader in celebrating 25 years of renewed diplomatic relations, the actual anniversary of which will be at the end of this year.
Putin visited Israel in 2005 and again in 2012, and may possibly come a third time for the real date of the 25th anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic ties with the former Soviet Union, which almost immediately evolved into diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation.
■ IT HAS been a long-held tradition for British ambassadors to host at least one reception each year, specifically for the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association.
IBCA members and their friends who thought last week that they were going to hear an address by Ambassador David Quarrey were surprised to discover that the keynote speaker was actually someone else, although the ambassador did address them as well. The surprise speaker was Baroness Susan Williams, Conservative parliamentary under secretary of state at the Department for Communities and Local Government, who shared her views on Israel during her high-level visit here.
Quarrey reviewed the growing economic relations between the UK and Israel, which he said had reached an all time high. He also spoke of the stalemate in the Israel-Arab peace negotiations and voiced his personal desire to promote arts and culture projects. He subsequently fielded questions on BDS movements, incitement in Arab schools, and more, and like predecessors was emphatic that there is no official BDS policy in Britain.
IBCA chairman Alex Deutsch, in introducing Quarrey, commented that in the short time in which he has been in Israel, the ambassador has endeared himself to the IBCA, as well as to the government and to the diplomatic community. It was also especially appropriate that the ambassador and his partner, Aldo Henriquez, should entertain IBCA exactly a year and a day since the British Foreign Office’s announcement of his appointment.
Coincidentally, the meeting also took place on the eve of Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade.
Quarrey and his partner have been completely candid about their relationship and have gained total acceptance in Israeli society.
■ AMONG THE participants in the Pride Parade was a delegation from the Netherlands Embassy headed by Ambassador Gilles Beschoor Plug. The Dutch group, dressed in their traditional national color of orange, joined the parade in a demonstration of support for equal LGBT rights around the globe. The ambassador was accompanied by ambassadors of the United States, Sweden and Norway as well as other diplomats who joined forces in a diplomatic show of solidarity. Beschoor Plug said that he was not only proud to represent the Netherlands as the first country to legalize gay marriage, he was also very pleased to be posted in a country that serves as a regional example with regard to gay rights. “However, I stress that not in the Netherlands and not in Israel should we take these rights for granted.” It was for this reason, he said, that the Dutch Embassy team had joined the parade.
■ DEAN OF the diplomatic corps and Ambassador of Cameroon Henri Etoundi Essomba, who served as ambassador to Israel for almost 18 years, made one of his last appearances in his present role at the Swedish National Day reception hosted by Swedish Ambassador Carl Magnes Nesser.
Essomba leaves Israel on Friday and is due to present his credentials in Washington on June 27. After that, he will return to Israel briefly for his farewell party.
The Swedish event, held for the first time in the Smolarz Auditorium of Tel Aviv University, was without doubt the best to date.
In the past, guests have sweltered in the back garden of the Swedish Residence in Herzliya Pituah. This time, they had air-conditioned comfort, loads of space in the Grosskopf Foyer of the building and, for those to whom it was important, an unending supply of kosher food, with the emphasis on smoked salmon and sweet herring. After about 90 minutes of mingling, guests were invited to enter the luxurious auditorium, where Staffan Scheja, one of Sweden’s most renowned pianists, gave a concert recital, but not before the usual formalities on such occasions. Nesser, who is a great fan of Scheja, said that the first LP recording he ever owned was of Scheja playing a Grieg symphony.
Nesser also assured his guests that “Sweden is a friend of Israel, despite some disagreements.”
He also mentioned the freeze in the peace process and said that Sweden is interested in seeing Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security. Despite the occasional disputes between Sweden and Israel, Nesser noted that there have been high-level exchanges plus delegations coming for conferences on almost every imaginable subject, including anti-Semitism. While Israelis tend to castigate the Foreign Ministry, Nesser had nothing but praise for its representatives, saying that it is a pleasure to work with them.
Kara noted that Sweden is a peaceful country which won its independence from Denmark almost 500 years ago. He also spoke of the importance of developing cooperative projects between Israel and her neighbors, saying that this is the best way to fight fundamentalism and extremism and to bring about peace, which is of interest to everyone in the world. During the playing of the anthems, Kara, who is a Druse, had no problem singing “Hatikva.”
■ LAST WEEK, former president Shimon Peres visited the residence now occupied by Israel’s 10th president, Rivlin, to bid farewell to his former military secretary Brig.-Gen. Hasson Hasson, who has been succeeded by Col. Boaz Hershkowitz. On Thursday of this week, Israel’s 10th president will visit the premises where Israel’s ninth president spends much of his time these days – the Peres Peace Center in Jaffa.
The occasion is the official launch of the Israeli Innovation Center, which will be headquartered at the Peres Center. Also attending will be Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, hi-tech leaders and other senior industry and political figures. It goes without saying that Peres, who has always been a great advocate for innovation, will also be there.
■ VETERAN BROADCASTER Gideon Reicher, who in recent weeks has joined Jojo Abutbul in a post-midnight phone-in program on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, in which listeners express their opinions on various issues of the day, completely lost his cool in the wee small hours of Tuesday morning.
Reicher is known for his booming voice and his aggressive style, which is heard several times a day in a commercial for sheltered living in a senior citizens’ facility.
Most of the people who phone in to the show – at least those who succeed in making contact with its anchors – are on the Right of the political spectrum, and in many cases the religious or the extreme Right, or both.
Some are under the impression that Reicher is an advocate for the Left and not merely the center-Left but the extreme Left.
Two such people were among the callers on Tuesday, and one even told Reicher to get off the show and just focus on senior citizens.
Another suggested to Abutbul that he get rid of him, to which Abutbul replied that Reicher was going on vacation. This elicited a further spate of negative comments against Reicher, coupled with the hope that he would not return. They were not the only ones who found fault with Reicher, but they were ones who touched a nerve.
One of the callers who objected to Reicher’s presence on the program had a North African accent and another, an American accent.
Reicher, who was born in pre-state Israel, went berserk, asking them what right they had to judge him, who was born in Palestine and served as a combat soldier in two wars, including the Six Day War. “I was among the liberators of Jerusalem!” he screamed at the man with the American accent. “Where were you? Did you serve in the army at all? Where do you get off telling me what to do? My birth certificate states ‘Born in Palestine.’ What does yours say?” Abutbul, who can also be antagonistic on occasion, tried this time to soothe troubled waters, and eventually succeeded in calming Reicher down. One of the main objections to Reicher was his empathy for the Arab population and his frequent reference to peace.
“Since when did peace become a dirty word?” asked Reicher.
■ HOTEL OWNERS, managers and department heads all have one special characteristic in common. It’s to look calm, unruffled and capable of handling any situation.
That description usually fits Michael Federmann, the head of the Dan Hotel chain, of which the King David in Jerusalem is the flagship. However at the annual reception that he hosts at the opening of the meeting of the International Council of the Israel Museum, Federmann began to look anxious as time passed. Mingling before eating usually takes a half hour or an hour at the most. Magnificent buffets had been set up on the patio of the beautifully manicured poolside garden.
Federmann looked at his watch. Museum chairman Yitzhak Molcho looked at his watch. They killed time talking to each other. Museum executive director James Snyder chatted up the people walking around with wine glasses, and every now and again made a phone call, mainly to the people working with Mayor Nir Barkat.
The mayor was stuck at the main Jerusalem Day celebration at Ammunition Hill with Rivlin and Netanyahu. Waiters kept coming out with trays of finger food.
Finally, the crowd got impatient and headed for the buffets. Barkat finally arrived when most of the people were well sated.
Fortunately, the microphone was working well, so it didn’t matter that the bulk of his audience was in the food area rather than the speeches area.
As the museum enters its 51st year, said Snyder, it was gratifying that more than 200 people from 17 countries were attending the meeting of the International Council, and that 20 percent of them were participating for the first time. What he didn’t say was that there were just as many young people as older, more established supporters of the museum, which means that fears that the next generation will not be interested in cultural projects are groundless.
Snyder praised Barkat for being “our partner on many fronts and the mayor of the city of which I’m proud to be an honorary citizen.” Barkat, who was still in Jerusalem Day mode, recalled that 49 years ago, when he was seven years old and witnessed the beginning and end of the Six Day War with adults celebrating in the streets, he didn’t understand what all the excitement was about. Now, as an adult, he understands the importance of reunification, he said, adding that he doesn’t take Jerusalem for granted.