Grapevine: When tragedy gives rise to eloquence and inspiration

News briefs from around the nation.

Bill Clinton at Rabin memorial ceremony (photo credit: REUTERS)
Bill Clinton at Rabin memorial ceremony
(photo credit: REUTERS)
How sad that at the rally commemorating the 20th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, speakers had to be protected by a bulletproof glass screen, which was put up at the last minute at the request of the US Secret Service and with the approval of the Shin Bet.
Twenty years later, when the peace that Rabin sought to bring about is as elusive as ever, perhaps even more so, there was fear that extremist snipers would aim at former US president Bill Clinton and at President Reuven Rivlin, or for that matter at the guests of honor sitting on stage, primarily former president and prime minister Shimon Peres, who was one of the architects of the Oslo accords.
Although Peres was not permitted to speak, because organizers were afraid that he would say something of a political nature, he was given a seat of honor, as was former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak. Peres, 92, has consistently attended the annual memorial gatherings in Rabin Square and said that for as long as he is able, he will continue to do so. He also attended an earlier memorial event at the Rabin Center, as did Clinton.
■ THE HUGE crowd, which seemed to be even bigger than that which filled the square 20 years ago, frequently applauded the rational, heartfelt and eloquent address by Sarah Rosenfeld, the mother of Malachi, who in June this year was fatally shot by terrorists in a drive-by attack in Shvut Rahel. Coincidentally, it was also Malachi’s birthday on the date of the commemoration ceremony, and Rosenfeld said that he would have been pleased to celebrate it in such a united gathering.
Israel has enormous untapped leadership that suddenly comes to the fore in the wake of tragedy. Esther Wachsman, the mother of kidnapped soldier Nachshon, who was murdered by terrorists; Miriam Peretz, who lost two soldier sons – Uriel in Lebanon and Eliraz in Gaza; Rachelle Sprecher Fraenkel, the mother of Naftali, one of the three yeshiva boys kidnapped and murdered last year by Palestinian terrorists; and now Sarah Rosenfeld.
These women, who have inspired all who hear them, were each anonymous outside of their own circles until tragedy struck, and for one reason or another they began to speak to the nation and the world. Had any of them sought fame, she might have achieved it without the pain of bereavement. But the circumstances under which these mothers lost their sons brought them to public attention; and because of their erudition and eloquence, each in her own way became a spokeswoman for national unity, mutual respect, tolerance and understanding. It is by pure coincidence that each bears the name of an ancient Jewish heroine.
■ THE ADVANTAGE of modern technology is that even an ambassador who is given a seat of honor at an important event can also take photos, as was the case with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who took photos with his cellphone at the Rabin Center and in Rabin Square and posted images of Clinton and US President Barack Obama on his Facebook page.
■ EVENTS COMMEMORATING the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination will continue till the end of this week, but the most significant from the point of view of jogging public memory will be the screening on Wednesday, November 4 – the Gregorian calendar date of the prime minister’s death – of two films, one being Amos Gitai’s Rabin, the Last Day, at the Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv; and the other, Erez Laufer’s Rabin in his own Words, at cinematheques in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as well as the Hen Cinema in Rehovot and Kiryat Tivon’s Memorial Center. Proceeds from Gitai’s Tel Aviv screening will go toward the establishment of a Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies.
■ AUSTRALIANS AND Australia-related events are coming into focus sharper than ever before, and exciting curiosity among Israelis as to what motivates people from the faraway lucky country to come to Israel.
Aside from resident Australians, most of whom are dual nationals, Australian exchange students and members of various Australian youth movements who are in Israel on one-year leadership and community service courses are two important delegations from Australia currently in Israel. One is here under the auspices of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and its members are interacting with colleagues from the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies on matters relating to Australia’s security challenges.
The other is a young innovators and entrepreneurs delegation, which is in Israel under the auspices of the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce. The latter delegation, which is the largest trade delegation from Australia over the past 15 years according to Paul Israel, the executive director of the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce, was hosted by Jerusalem- based international lawyer Zalli Jaffe to a Friday night dinner at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel. Not only is this the largest trade delegation from down under, but it is also the youngest.
Co-chairmen are MP Wyatt Roy, Australia’s assistant minister for innovation, and Marita Chang, entrepreneur, expert in robotics and advocate for women in technology, who in 2012 was named Young Australian of the Year. The delegation comprises 44 Australian businesspeople from a range of industries. For the majority this is their first trip to Israel, and they are full of admiration for Israel’s hospitality, achievements and innovation. Roy, now 25, was first elected to parliament at the age of 20, and had the distinction of being the youngest-ever Australian parliamentarian. Even at this early stage in his career, he is already being hailed as a future prime minister.
Chang, 26, whose name and facial features point to her origins, was given a rough time by El Al security, who took away her iPad and cellphone and did not return them by the time she boarded the flight to Israel. Her luggage was also not put on board. Her boyfriend Alberto Rizzoli, who has designed a special application for the blind and visually impaired, travels on an Italian passport, and because it was a new passport, he, too, was given a tough time by El Al security, but not as intensive an interrogation as the one to which Chang was subjected.
That they were part of a prestigious delegation that included several parliamentarians, one of whom is an assistant government minister, made no impact on the security people. For all that, neither Chang nor Rizzoli allowed that bad experience to intrude on the enjoyment of their visit, especially as they were so well treated by fellow participants and by all the Israelis they met.
Chang’s one regret was that she did not ask the security people to google her. It might have saved her a lot of grief.
■ AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Dave Sharma and his wife, Rachel Lord, hosted a kosher dinner at their residence in Herzliya Pituah for participants in the conference co-hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and the BESA Center.
There were no speeches at the dinner, but the table conversation was quite interesting and even exciting at one table where the majority of diners were Australians who were divided in their opinions as to whether Australia should become a republic or remain loyal to the Queen of England. But even the pro-republicans admitted that throughout her long reign, Queen Elizabeth has not done anything for which she should be reproached. She has not only ruled her subjects but has served them in the best possible manner.
When the conversation turned to Israel, Allan Gyngell, a fellow at Canberra’s National Security College, a former diplomat and a former foreign policy adviser to Paul Keating when the latter was prime minister of Australia, recalled the most salient remark made by Rabin shortly before his death at a meeting with Gareth Evans, who was then foreign minister. A confirmation of that meeting in Evans’s own words appears on the Internet in an address that he gave in November 2012 to the Australian Friends of Palestine, in which he related part of the discussion that he had with Rabin. In that address Evans said: “As foreign minister, the most memorable single meeting I had was with Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv, shortly before his assassination by a right-wing Jewish extremist in November 1995.
“I was arguing the case for rapid implementation – all the way through to negotiated acceptance of Palestinian statehood – of the Oslo peace accords, which had been signed with great fanfare two years earlier and which were then seen (for all the faults that subsequently became apparent) as a highly constructive way forward. I concluded my pitch by saying, with perhaps a little more cheek than was appropriate for the occasion, ‘But of course I’m preaching to the converted.’ “Rabin’s response is etched in my memory.
He paused for a moment, then said with a little half-smile: ‘To the committed, not the converted.’” ■ AMONG THE invitees last Thursday when MK Oren Hazan (Likud) celebrated his 34th birthday in a trendy Tel Aviv bar was Jerusalem Post Knesset reporter Lahav Harkov. Not one to stand for protocol, Hazan danced with his parliamentary aides and distributed vodka shots to the bar’s patrons. His birthday cake had a reference to his Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country) TV character on it. Hazan’s father, former MK Yehiel Hazan, was present, as was Kulanu MK Merav Ben-Ari. Hazan’s girlfriend was also at the party, but Harkov was made to swear not to divulge any details about her.
■ THE CONTROVERSY brewing over the Jerusalem pyramid designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind has not abated, and is likely to remain a hot subject in architectural and Jerusalem heritage circles for some time to come.
The pyramid, which includes an outdoor plaza, shops, 200 luxury apartments, a boutique hotel and a rooftop restaurant, is slated to go up on the site of the old Eden theater, which is close to King George Street, Jaffa Road and the Mahaneh Yehuda market.
Although it has received municipal and district approval, the design has been criticized by Jerusalem architects and by conservationists who say that, aside from being out of sync with the city’s architectural landscape, it is a blight on the city skyline, and that if it is to go up at all, it must be revamped so that it will not be as high.
The skyline has long been abused by the Bridge of Strings, the notorious Holyland apartment complex plus a glut of high-rise buildings which have been constructed in recent years or are now in various stages of construction. Not so long ago, the selling point of real estate agents pitching properties in Jerusalem was that on a clear day one could see all the way to the Judean Desert.
For people who purchase a penthouse – maybe. It all depends on whether a taller building is going to go up in the immediate vicinity and will ultimately block the view.
■ NOW IT’S official. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Irina Nevzlin are an item, and no longer keep their relationship discreet.
The two are now seen together in public, and even pose for photos together.
Edelstein’s wife, Tatiana, died in January 2014. Nevzlin split up several months ago with her husband, Michael Kogan. She and Edelstein have been keeping company for around six months.
The two made their relationship public last week, when they attended a fund-raising concert at the inauguration of the Shlomo Lahat Memorial Foundation, named for the long-serving, popular mayor of Tel Aviv.
The foundation is integral to Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People, of which Nevzlin is the chairwoman of the board, and its purpose is to provide funds that will enable children from peripheral communities to come to Beit Hatfutsot, use its research facilities and learn about aspects of Jewish life in Israel and in other parts of the world.
Lahat, who died a year ago, was closely involved with Beit Hatfutsot, and served as chairman of its board from 1978-1993. His interest in the museum never waned, and when the museum was faced with closure for lack of funds, it was Lahat who pleaded with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon to save it and ensure its ongoing role as the museum of the Jewish people.
In the forefront of the fiscal rescue effort was Leonid Nevzlin, Irina’s father and the key co-founder of the NADAV Foundation, which has also given generously not only to Beit Hatfutsot but to the Hebrew University, United Israel Appeal, the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and many other institutions and organizations.
■ AFTER PRESENTING their credentials on Monday to Rivlin, five new ambassadors – Peter Hulenyi of Slovakia, Periyasamy Pillai Selvaraj of Sri Lanka, Jon Hanssen-Bauer of Norway, Allison Kelly of Ireland, and Osman Keh Kamara, the Ethiopian-based ambassador of Sierra Leone – headed for the King David Hotel in Jerusalem where they were joined by other members of the diplomatic corps as well as honorary consuls and several non-diplomats in the traditional vin d’honneur celebration.
All the new ambassadors were accompanied by key members of their embassies, the most outstanding of whom was Norwegian Defense Attaché Yvonn Andreassen, who is the only female military attaché in Israel.
Her gold-braided uniform was decorated with a long row of medals.
Sheldon Ritz, the deputy general manager of the King David who specifically deals with the diplomatic corps and visiting dignitaries, didn’t know whether he should say “Welcome to Israel” to Hanssen-Bauer, who during some 20 visits to Israel in a former capacity as Norway’s special envoy to the Middle East had stayed at the King David during all those visits. At the vin d’honneur Bauer could be seen in earnest conversation with an old friend, interfaith peace activist Rabbi Michael Melchior, who though he lives in Jerusalem is also chief rabbi of Norway.
Hulenyi, who when presenting his credentials had invited Rivlin to attend the opening on January 26, 2016, of the Slovakian Holocaust Museum, said that before the Second World War, there had been 90,000 Jews in Slovakia, of whom only 20,000 survived, most of them saved by Slovakian non-Jews who had risked their lives. Five hundred Slovakians have been recognized as Righteous among the Nations, he said. The date for the opening of the museum was deliberately chosen, Hulenyi explained, so that people attending the Auschwitz commemoration ceremony on International Holocaust Remembrance Day could also come to Slovakia.
Kelly’s invitation list included colleagues serving in the Palestinian Authority as well as in peacekeeping forces in the region. Brig.- Gen. Tony Hanlon, deputy force commander of UNDOF of Ireland, was very excited that he and the ambassador, who were both born in Drogheda, a port and industrial town on the east coast of Ireland, were standing together in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
Israel’s first ambassador to Ireland, Zvi Gabay, dean of the diplomatic corps Henri Etoundi Essomba and Yitzhak Eldan, a former chief of protocol of the Foreign Ministry and today the president of the Ambassadors’ Club, were also present, as were current Chief of Protocol Meron Reuben and director of the Protocol Department Nitza Raz.
■ NEXT WEEK five additional ambassadors – from Uruguay, El Salavador, Russia, Slovenia and Albania – are due to present their credentials, to be followed by another vin d’honneur.
At the same time colorful London Mayor Boris Johnson, a wordsmith turned politician, will be at the King David with a large entourage. Also accompanying him to Israel, but not to Jerusalem, is a sizable British business delegation. Johnson will be the co-keynote speaker with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid at the annual Balfour Dinner, hosted by the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association, at the Tel Aviv Hilton on November 9.
Some people might quibble that the Kristallnacht anniversary is not an appropriate date on which to hold either a presentation of credentials ceremony or a Balfour Dinner. But there are two sides to every argument, and if Kristallnacht is a reminder of the events leading up to the Final Solution to the Jewish Question, any kind of celebration in Israel on that date indicates triumph in the face of the greatest of adversities in Jewish history.
It should also be remembered that many more Jews would have perished or been murdered if Britain had not taken in 10,000 predominantly Jewish European children on the eve of the war. Many of these children lost their parents, but most married and had children of their own who have since produced grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
■ IN THE category of better late than never, it would appear that Eilat will finally have a casino – not just a casino but a Las Vegas-style hotel and convention center strip to be constructed on the site of the present airport, after it is vacated following the completion of the new airport in Timna.
According to a report in Yediot Aharonot, the casino – or the Las Vegas project, which would arguably be a more appropriate name – was discussed by a relevant interministerial committee and representatives of other state institutions, such as the Taxation Authority and the Israel Lands Authority at a meeting that was convened by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin at the behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Some 40 years ago, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson wanted to establish a casino in Eilat, and was consistently rebuffed for years, until he finally gave up. In later years, he repeated his Las Vegas success in Singapore and Macao, thereby contributing greatly to the economies of both. It should be remembered that Adelson is a great supporter of Netanyahu, and while there are many other players in the casino business, it is pretty much on the cards that Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corporation will be among the investors in this mega venture.
Just under three years ago, when the writer of this column was a guest of the management of the Marina Bay complex in Singapore, she interviewed Michael Leven, president and COO of Las Vegas Sands as well as president and CEO of Marina Bay Sands, who told her that he would like to see an integrated resort complex, including a casino, not in Eilat but in Tel Aviv, which he thought was a more suitable location. Presumably, he would be flexible about Eilat if the Sands group wins a tender to build there.
While some people might worry about organized crime, prostitution and addiction to gambling, all these issues have been discussed by the interministerial committee, which is due to complete its investigations into the project within the next two months.
If the project gets off the ground, it would contribute to a dramatic reduction in unemployment.
The Sands venture in Singapore created more than 10,000 jobs. The Singapore government was initially reluctant to open a casino, but realized that as long as it could institute rules to nip corruption or gambling problems in the bud, the casino would be a valuable source of income.
While there is free entry to anyone who produces a foreign passport, Singaporeans have to pay SGD 100 (about NIS 310) every time they enter the casino, or alternatively an annual levy of SGD 2,000. The money goes straight to the government, not the casino. As a result of Adelson’s investment, unemployment in Singapore went down to 1.9 percent.
If similar rules applied in Israel, it would be a win-win situation. When the Hilton Taba opened its casino in November 1982, Israelis flocked to it. When there was a casino operating in Jericho, it did more to foster good relations between Israelis and Palestinians than anything achieved by peace negotiators.
Anyone who worries about the negative impact of an integrated resort complex that includes casino gambling should spend half an hour standing next to a Mifal Hapayis (National Lottery) kiosk to see how much money Israelis spend on lottery tickets and scratch cards. It’s quite an eye-opener.
■ ENERGY IS the name of the game these days, and Moshe Mamrud, the CEO and controlling shareholder of the Tadiran Group, together with his wife, Dalia, and his business partners, hosted a reception to celebrate the launch of the Tadiran Energy division. The launch at Reading 3 on the Port of Tel Aviv was attended by members of the international business community who specially flew into Israel for the occasion, most specifically from Italy and Japan. Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo and Japanese Ambassador Shigeo Matsutomi were also among the 300 guests.
Mamrud said that he is particularly proud of the fact that Tadiran Energy’s target is to help create a green environment that would bring about a radical but positive change in people’s lives.
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