In her own voice

After an emotional Israeli premiere at Cinema City in her native Jerusalem, to which she returned as a student to study at the Hebrew University, Natalie Portman’s voice is being heard frequently on Israel Radio.

Actress Natalie Portman arrives at the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California (photo credit: REUTERS)
Actress Natalie Portman arrives at the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California
(photo credit: REUTERS)
■ After an emotional Israeli premiere at Cinema City in her native Jerusalem, to which she returned as a student to study at the Hebrew University, and some years later for another relatively long period to make her debut as a director in the film version of the best-selling book by Amos Oz A Tale of Love and Darkness, Natalie Portman’s voice is being heard frequently on Israel Radio. The Oscar-winning actress is promoting the film in Hebrew, with absolutely no trace of an American accent, and the promos are being aired from early morning till late at night several times in the space of an hour.
Illness prevented Amos Oz from attending the premiere last Thursday, but his family was well represented as was that of Portman, and also in the audience was Oz’s good friend of long standing Shimon Peres.
Early in the week, Peres, together with Education Minister Naftali Bennett, launched the Give Me Five campaign, in which he starred with high school students in a series of video clips aimed at persuading parents to encourage their children to take five units of mathematics for the matriculation exams in preparation for careers in hi-tech. The videos show Peres giving different students the high five. Similar stills are being featured almost daily in the Hebrew press.
Peres also participated in another campaign to aid children suffering from muscular diseases that limit their motor abilities, met with various visiting dignitaries and, on the day after the premiere of A Tale of Love and Darkness, flew to Italy and traveled to Cernobbio on the shores of Lake Como, where he participated in the international three-day conference on competitive strategies at the Villa d’Este, a conference hosted by the exclusive Ambrosetti Forum, of which Peres is a member.
At the film premier on Thursday night, he spoke to Portman and asked her what had led her to make the film. He wanted to know what had fascinated her so much.
Portman replied in fluent Hebrew: “Amos Oz enchanted me. He is an amazing man, a lovely person, and reminds us, like you, that we can always hope to be better people and better Jews.” Oz had given her his blessing when she sought to make the film, she said, and had told her to make it her own creation and not just an adaptation of the book.
Portman, who had long dreamed of being a director and also stars as Oz’s mother in the film, told the audience – which included members of the cast along with Cinema City owners and distributors of the film Moshe and Leon Edry – “Dreams can sometimes be disappointing, but we need to hold on to them to live. So please, don’t let go of your dreams.”
■ LONG-TERM spokeswomen for Peres Ayelet Frish and Yael Pedatzur-Livne could not stay to watch the film. They headed for Tzela Hahar, a banquet hall in Mahseya, near Beit Shemesh, to attend the wedding of Hadar Teneh, who had been their protégé during Peres’s presidency.
Teneh, who married Shimon Glantz, was a national service intern when she came to the President’s Residence. Petite and delicate, she gave the initial impression that she would not be able to assert herself at press conferences, but she was a quick learner who, in an amazingly short period of time, acquired both poise and know-how, which she fused with the gentle personality of a graduate of a haredi girls school. In fact, the rabbi who had headed her school was also at the wedding and recited one of the seven blessings.
If the surname of the groom sounds familiar, it’s because he’s one of the sons of well-known musician Yehuda Glantz, who plays numerous instruments, but who on this occasion left the music to others and spent the whole night grinning.
In many respects the wedding was a reunion between past and present staff members and security personnel from all departments of the President’s Office who had worked there before and since Teneh’s arrival. Some of her national service predecessors had found the pace too demanding and had left after a year. But Teneh took to it like a duck to water, and after serving for two years was taken on staff where she is considered to be a very valuable asset.
Although she oozed happiness, like every bride, she was somewhat nervous, and kept relating to guests as though she were conducting a press conference. Meital Jaslovitz, who had trained Teneh, went over to her to tell her to relax and simply enjoy.
In haredi circles it is believed that the blessing of a bride will bring good luck, and Teneh blessed many women on the night of her wedding, cupping their faces in her hands as she murmured her good wishes for them. In Jaslovitz’s case, she wished her an easy pregnancy and delivery. Jaslovitz is expecting to give birth to a girl in February.
During the wedding ceremony, two of the seven blessings were recited by brothers of the groom. The final blessing was recited by his older brother Moshe, who has a superb singing voice and who actually earned applause after expanding the blessing to a three-minute performance.
While men and women sat at the same table during the dinner, they separated for the dancing, with the women dancing behind a screen. When the bride and groom arrived at the dinner, they were greeted by a shofar-and-drum fanfare, and separately and together danced more than anyone else with unwavering verve and energy.
At one stage, relatives and friends of the groom spread out a sheet in which they placed the groom and tossed him in the air. Obviously agile, he did several backward somersaults; but while he was being tossed, his head came dangerously close to the ceiling.
■ Journalists working for religious publications and religiously observant themselves take great pride when people who are on the same page of observance refuse to betray their religious principles.
Thus Aryeh Ehrlich, who writes for Mishpacha magazine, tweeted a photo of Rivka Ravitz, the president’s ultra-Orthodox bureau chief who traveled with him to Rome and explained to Pope Francis why for halachic reasons she could not bow when she met him.
Foreign dignitaries and new ambassadors are forewarned by the Foreign Ministry not to try to shake hands with Ravitz and not to be insulted if she stands in a receiving line with her hands behind her back in order not to violate the halachic prohibition against any form of physical contact between a woman and a man who is not her husband.
Though bewigged and the mother of 11 children, Ravitz, who is just shy of 40, has at least in one respect deviated from the haredi norm. She has university degrees: an undergraduate degree in computer science and an MBA, and now is working toward a PhD in public policy.
She also speaks excellent English, as does her husband, Yitzhak, who is the chairman of the Betar Illit branch of Degel Hatorah. He is a son of the late MK Avraham Ravitz and one of 12 siblings himself.
A school teacher before she began working in the Knesset in 1997 as a parliamentary assistant to Reuven Rivlin, Rivka Ravitz remained with him when he was speaker of the Knesset, and afterward continued with him to the President’s Residence.
With preparations for Rosh Hashana to attend to, it’s not certain that she found time to bake a cake for the boss’s birthday. Wednesday, September 9, is his 76th birthday.
It’s also the 80th birthday of actor Chaim Topol, and Thursday, September 10, is the 82nd birthday of Mr. Television, Haim Yavin.
■ South African Ambassador Sisa Ngombane was among the first of the heads of diplomatic missions in Israel to send out Rosh Hashana greetings by email wishing all recipients a New Year filled with health, happiness and peace.
■ On the day prior to Ngombane sending out his message, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro hosted a Rosh Hashana toast at his residence, where he told guests that some might say the year 5775 which is now concluding did not represent a high point in US-Israel relations. He might not disagree, he conceded, “but even in a hard year, in which one of our rare disagreements took on such prominence, our ties were nevertheless strengthened and deepened.”
Shapiro cited examples such as American sailors, soldiers, pilots and Marines training here with their IDF counterparts; Israeli Fulbright Scholars setting off to American universities, and their American counterparts coming to Israel; more Israeli companies finding success in investing in the United States, and more American firms benefiting from Israeli innovation.
He also mentioned that El Al had launched direct flights between Tel Aviv and Boston and had purchased Boeing 787 Dreamliners to expand its all-American fleet. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis traveled to America, and nearly twice as many Americans came to Israel – more than 600,000, said Shapiro.
“We are building, learning, and innovating together. We are on guard together, reaffirming the United States’ bedrock commitment to stand by Israel as it faces the threat of rockets, terror, and enemies sworn to its destruction,” he said. When his family was in New York this summer, Shapiro and his wife, Julie, visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York. It was a stark reminder of something else Israelis and Americans share, he said – “the experience of being attacked by terrorists in our own homes.”
Shapiro affirmed that Americans stand should-to-shoulder with Israelis “in any arena where the right or the ability of the Jewish state to defend itself is called into question. We stand shoulder- to-shoulder when Israel faces defamation, delegitimization or double standards – including our leadership role in the global fight against rising anti-Semitism.”
Quoting from remarks made by US President Barack Obama the previous Friday, Shapiro said: “The bond between the United States and Israel is not political. It’s not based on alliances of convenience. We are family.” Shapiro continued, “Our governments are united on the need to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And although we have a serious and honest disagreement about the best approach to achieve that common goal, nothing about this disagreement affects the core commitments we have to each other’s security. We are ready, and look forward, to resuming our dialogue on ways to improve and enhance Israel’s security in a very troubled neighborhood.”
Shapiro emphasized that the United States also remains deeply committed to the goal of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, including a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Two states for two peoples. It is more than just a policy; it is in America’s interest and it remains our solemn obligation,” he said.
Guests at the event included ministers, MKs, victims of terrorism and members of the GLBT community, including some who had been in the Jerusalem gay pride parade in which teenager Shira Banki had been murdered. Shapiro called her “a symbol of how we should all live our lives: with compassion, with understanding, and with generosity.”
■ Scores of the many students who over the years have benefited from the wisdom, compassion and humor of beloved teacher Rabbi Chaim Brovender, who revolutionized Jewish education in the full sense of the word by making esoteric Jewish texts accessible to women, came to the Dan Panorama Hotel in Jerusalem to join Brovender and his wife, Miriam, on the 50th anniversary of their aliya from the United States.
Young enthusiastic modern-Orthodox Zionists, the Brovenders had originally intended to settle on Kibbutz Lavie, but in the plane on the way to Israel Miriam said that she wanted to spend Rosh Hashana in Jerusalem. As a result of that decision, the face of Jewish learning for men and women in Israel, the United States, Britain and Russia changed dramatically.
“Each of us was affected by Rabbi Brovender, his teachings and his institutions,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Saks, the founding director of ATID, The Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions. Even today, said Saks, Brovender gives a daily webcast lesson at 5 a.m. His own relationship with Brovender, which began 27 years ago, said Saks, “was a transformative moment in my life.”
Reviewing some of his accomplishments, Brovender said: “It always looks easy when it’s successful, but making it successful is not all that easy.” He had come to Israel because he had been a member of Bnei Akiva in Brighton Beach, where no one spoke of Arabs or hardships.
He wanted to go to a place where everyone was Jewish. He thought it was a great idea. “I still think it’s a great idea,” he said, “although a lot of things changed.” Like so many of his peer generation, he remembers that people did not lock their doors.
“We didn‘t have much, so we didn’t have any fear of criminal activity. No one will come to steal Sochnut [Jewish Agency] beds.”
Israel has come as long way “in spite of the fact that we’re annoyed by the people you meet every day,” he said. “It’s like living a miracle, and we’re not finished. It’s not always easy.” He isn’t happy to see much of what is going on in the country, he said, “but there’s a lot of good things going on as well. I’ve not been disappointed for a single day.”
He is happy that his children and grandchildren have grown up in Israel. He thinks that speaking in Hebrew to his children is a privilege.
His wife prefers to speak to them in English. That’s not the only subject on which they disagree.
“I think that’s why people get married,” he said, “so that they can have someone close at hand with whom they can disagree.”
■ On the following evening at the nearby Leonardo hotel, Rabbi Berel Wein, another much beloved teacher and a prolific writer and filmmaker, honored book publisher Matthew Miller and his wife, Renee, at the 12th annual gala banquet of the Destiny Foundation, of which Wein is the founder. A firm believer in telling the story of the Jewish people, especially of those who upheld the faith and passed on the torch under the most intolerable of conditions, Wein and Miller have a mutual admiration society. Wein was full of praise for Miller for founding The Toby Press, which publishes books on Jewish and Israeli themes, and for saving Koren Publishers, whose Maggid Books imprint is devoted to contemporary Jewish thought.
Wein, whose works have been published by Miller, and whose writings and oratory are often punctuated with references to the great miracle of the revival of Jewish learning and its dissemination by respected scholars, again referred to this revival, saying that Jewish learning had been neglected for too long by sections of the Jewish people who did not treasure it.
Referring to his own latest book, Who Knows Twelve, which was published under the Maggid imprint, and which he gave with a personal inscription to every guest, Wein said that he was inspired by the 12 prophets of Israel who talked not only to their own generations but to the present generation as well.
Because it is helping to spread the word of Torah, Wein characterized Koren Publishers Maggid as “the story of revival and resilience in our time.” Publishing today is a difficult field, he said. Many people say that the time of the book is over and that when they want to know something they consult “Rabbi Google.” But Koren Publishers has proved that there are still book readers, and he is proud, he said, to be part of its stable.
Miller said that Koren is fortunate to have world-class scholars and editors in Jerusalem, which “allows us to reach the standards we want to achieve.” He said that during a recent trip to the United States, he and his wife had attended a meeting of the Rabbinical Council of America, where the main concern was how to better serve the Jewish public. He repeated the sentence to underscore the message and, without actually saying so, implied that this attitude toward serving the public is not the prevailing attitude in Israel.
■ While Ambassador to the Netherlands Haim Divon is getting more than a taste of home in Holland, where, he says, he feasts on the best hummus that he’s ever eaten, his opposite number in Israel, Caspar Veldkamp, who is winding up his tour of duty, is having a busy last month with visits of high-level delegations, including the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, who came to give a keynote address at the Cities Summit in Tel Aviv, as well as for a bilateral program and a meeting with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai to exchange views and discuss future cooperation. He also met with members of the local Dutch community at the Beth Juliana senior citizens home in Herzliya, where many of the residents are Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands.
Also visiting is Amsterdam’s deputy mayor and alderwoman for economic affairs Kajsa Ollongren, who is an up-and-coming politician on the political Center-Left in the Netherlands. She is leading a delegation of start-up companies which are participating in Tel Aviv’s DLD festival organized by hi-tech guru Yossi Vardi, with the focus on innovation and creative start-ups.
The special start-up envoy of the Dutch government, Neelie Kroes, is also visiting the DLD festival.
Kroes is a former member of the EU’s European Commission. Yet another important visitor is Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp, whose itinerary includes meeting with his counterpart Arye Deri, a visit to the JVP Media Quarter in Jerusalem to discuss venture capital and the start-up ecosystem in Israel, as well as the DLD festival in Tel Aviv and a visit to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
There is just so much that any embassy can take on at any given time, and when the Dutch Embassy, which usually represents Luxembourg interests in Israel in the absence of a Luxembourg embassy, learned that Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, also planned to visit Israel at the same time, it asked Belgian Ambassador John Cornet d’Elzius to facilitate that visit. Luxembourg is the only country of the European Union that does not have its own embassy in Israel. In good Benelux spirit, the Belgian ambassador agreed to lend a hand, and it was he who accompanied Asselborn to meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, while Veldkamp, who takes up his new duties in Athens on October 1, accompanied the Dutch dignitaries.
■ One of the current trends among Jews is trying to find Sephardi ancestry that can be traced to Spain or Portugal.
One of the greatest experts in the field is Gloria Mound, who on Wednesday evening, September 9, at Kehilat Moreshet Avraham at 22 Adam Street, East Talpiot, Jerusalem, will speak about the Anusim (hidden Jews) of Ireland, whose English is laced with a rich Irish brogue.
Also addressing this subject will be well-known British genealogist Benjamin Dunn, who has specially come to Israel for this purpose.
Dunn is directly connected to the hidden Jews of Ireland through his own family.
■ Most embassies promote the culture of their country, but the Japanese Embassy, with its regular Friday lectures, arguably does more than anyone else. This coming Friday, September 11, the lecture will be about Japanese fashion, not only the traditional Harajuku style, but also contemporary fashion and the lifestyle of Japanese women. The lecturer will be Sayaka Miyaji, who has a BA in media design from Keio University, an MA in business administration, and is a Bunka Fashion Graduate from the University of Tokyo, who has been promoting Japanese fashion to the world. She will speak in Japanese, and there will be simultaneous translation into Hebrew.
Although the traditional Japanese kimono is globally recognized as the Japanese national costume, contemporary Japanese fashion is relatively unknown outside of Asia, even though some of the Japanese designers have made great names for themselves in Paris, Milan and New York. A new fashion culture has been created in Japan and is renewing itself daily. There are approximately 100 different monthly fashion magazines published in Japan, which provide an abundance of up-to-date information on clothes, makeup, hairstyles, restaurants, cuisine, travel, etc. Throughout Japan and especially in Tokyo, there are countless concept stores, lifestyle shops, and fashionable restaurants, examples of which will be given at the lecture in the Museum Tower, Berkowitz Street, Tel Aviv.