Veteran CNN anchor and news reporter Wolf Blitzer, who early in his career was the longtime Washington correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, went to Warsaw and interviewed Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who has been helping the Jewish community of Poland to organize on behalf of Ukrainian refugees.
Schudrich told Blitzer: “We need to learn the lesson from the righteous gentiles. Now it’s our turn to step up and save as many people as possible, Jews and non-Jews.”
Blitzer happens to be the son of Polish-born Auschwitz survivors, so it’s not quite certain how that comment resonated with him.
■ EVERY ORGANIZATION, regardless of its size or status, is happy to meet with the president of Israel, but few more than the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association, which this week, with slightly more than 100 of its members, but also with five ambassadors, attended the meeting, which was the last in a series of three events to compensate for the absence of the annual Balfour Day Dinner, which in past years has been IBCA’s gala event of the year, but for the past two years has been sacrificed on the altar of coronavirus.
The first of the three events was a reception at the residence of British Ambassador Neil Wigan, where former ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub spoke about the Rothschild family. The second event was a visit to the ANZAC Museum in Beersheba, and the cherry on top of the cake was the meeting with President Isaac Herzog, whose late father was an IBCA chairman in the early years of the organization.
In expressing appreciation to Herzog for taking time to host the group, IBCA chairwoman Brenda Katten, who writes a regular column for the The Jerusalem Post Magazine, emphasized that he had been immersed in every position that he had held before becoming president, and stated that he had been the most successful chairman the Jewish Agency had ever had. He was so successful, she said, that the agency can’t find a successor.
Herzog, whose family history is closely linked with the UK, said that there was something unique in Anglo-Jewish culture.
He welcomed each of the ambassadors personally, recalling how Wigan had accompanied him last November to 10 Downing Street and to his meeting with Prince Charles. He told Australian Ambassador Paul Griffiths that in the Knesset he had been chairman of the Israel-Australia Parliamentary Friendship League, and that he had visited Australia. He had somewhat more to say to Canadian Ambassador Lisa Stadelbauer, recalling the famous debate between his late uncle Yaakov Herzog, who was ambassador to Canada, and historian Arnold Toynbee. Herzog also mentioned the fact that his wife, Michal, had grown up in Canada, and that his late cousin Shira Herzog was a famous opinion maker in Canada. To Cypriot Ambassador Theodora Constantinidou, in addition to speaking about his recent visit to Cyprus, he said that he also had a family interest there in that his maternal grandfather, while living in Egypt, founded a citrus enterprise in Cyprus. There was even a connection with Sri Lanka. Herzog told Ambassador Waruna Wilpatha that when his father, as Israel’s sixth president, made his historic trip to the Far East, he stopped off in Sri Lanka and met with president Jayewardene, before diplomatic relations were established between Israel and Sri Lanka.
Herzog also touched on the changes taking place in the Middle East and, in relation to the Abraham Accords, did what he does unfailingly, and paid tribute to former US president Donald Trump and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bringing the accords to fruition.
Commenting on recent developments, Herzog said: “We have no other choice than regional cooperation.” He envisaged that such cooperation will make a significant difference in the lives of people in the region.
Earlier, Katten had mentioned that during the 1967 war, Chaim Herzog had been the military commentator for Israel Radio, and later that same year he had chaired the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Balfour Declaration at the Knesset. Isaac Herzog compared Israel’s position among her neighbors then to the current situation. In 1967, no one could have imagined what is happening today, he said.
Usually,when a group is permitted to ask questions of the president, the number is limited to three, but on this occasion, Herzog was much more generous with his time, and there were several questions about relations with Turkey, relations with the UAE, the extent to which he was influenced by his famous forebears, particularly his paternal grandfather and his father; to what he attributed the gap between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, the transition from politics to the presidency – and more.
Herzog said with regard to Turkey that he was there to help start a dialogue, and after that it was up to the governments of both countries.
As for his forebears, while he is very proud of them and his heritage, he has his own convictions and way of doing things. He comes from a family that was dedicated to public service, and for as long as he can remember he also wanted to serve the public. He was pleased to go from politics to the agency, which made his transition to the presidency much easier in terms of knowing and understanding the Jewish world.
Hinting at the difference in manners between British parliamentarians and their Israeli colleagues, Herzog said he wishes that Israeli MKs, when addressing each other, would say “My right honorable....”
More must be told about individual Jewish communities, he stressed, citing the community in the Caribbean as an example. As for the gap between Israel the Diaspora, he said that we are living in a changing world in which young Jews are trying to determine their identities.
In addition to meeting and hearing from the president, IBCA participants saw an interesting documentary about all the past presidents of Israel, were given a guided tour of the President’s Residence, and went home with a souvenir brochure of the visit.
One other difference was that instead of photos being taken by a photographer from the Government Press Office, they were taken by Charles Green, who, before making aliyah, worked for a number of years in Buckingham Palace as Her Majesty’s photographer.
■ ISRAEL-AUSTRALIA Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Paul Israel was very excited last week. A major part of his duties and those of one of his team members, Shifka Seigel, involves organizing the itineraries of Australian and New Zealand trade delegations and ensuring that each delegation meets with Israeli counterparts and gets an understanding of Israel’s history, the current geopolitical situation, Israeli culture and the Jewish religion. In pre-COVID times, there were at least six Australian and New Zealand trade delegations coming to Israel each year and generating millions of dollars in business in diverse fields. But as Michael Schneider, the CEO of Bunnings, who led the first such delegation to Israel since the onset of the pandemic, remarked: Melbourne, which is where most of the 20 members of the delegation live, holds the world record for lockdowns, whereas Israel is recognized in Australia as a world leader in coping with COVID.
The jet-lagged but happy delegation arrived in Israel via Dubai on Friday, and in the evening was hosted at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue Shabbat service by the congregation’s vice president Zalli Jaffe, who is an international lawyer with several important clients in Australia.
In past years, this was routine for Jaffe, who after the service attend the delegation’s Friday night dinner, where he explained some of the customs of the synagogue service as well the traditions of kiddush – all interspersed with humorous anecdotes, of which he has a large fund.
Over the years, the chamber of commerce has contributed significantly to the revenues of some of Jerusalem’s major hotels. This time around it was the David Citadel, which outdid itself with an absolutely splendid dinner with much more delicious and varied food than anyone could eat, coupled with excellent service by waiters assisted by the maître d’.
Guest speaker was Dr. Eran Lerman, vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, a former deputy director for foreign policy and international affairs at the National Security Council in the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as a former senior Military Intelligence officer in the IDF.
Lerman spoke of the major changes in the geopolitics of the Middle East, attributing the new alliances to the fact that some of Israel’s neighbors have realized that Israel is indispensable to their safety and security. He also referred to the war in Ukraine, noting that Israel for the first time is playing a diplomatic role aimed at ending the conflict, whereas in the past, conflict resolution involving Israel was with regard to Israel’s relations with the Palestinians and other hostile neighbors.
He also mentioned the historic meeting in the Negev this week of six foreign ministers – five of them regional – and commented that not so long ago, such a meeting would not have been possible.
Bunnings, which employs 50,000 people, has 500 retail stores in Australia and New Zealand specializing in home improvement and lifestyle products. The company is also a major supplier to project builders, commercial tradespeople and the housing industry. Its website receives more than 30 million visits each month, and it offers access to 11,000 products online.
Schneider said that when Paul Israel came to his office in Melbourne in 2018 to try to talk him into bringing a trade delegation to Israel, he had not been overly enthused, but had decided to join a delegation in 2019, and had been “blown away.” He had hoped to bring his own delegation in 2020, but COVID delayed those plans. Still, better late than never.
The purpose of the visit by the high-level delegation of Bunnings executives is to meet with innovative Israeli companies that can join Bunnings in bilateral expansion. Meanwhile, the chamber of commerce is organizing itineraries for additional trade delegations from Down Under, and it looks as if it is going to be a very busy year.
■ MOST OF us, though aware of major events that are coming up in our lives, for some odd reason react in surprise when they actually happen. Somehow, we are seldom 100% prepared.
Thus when Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff and his wife, Laura Kam, though well aware that his term was ending at the end of March, held their farewell reception this week, following a round of other farewells, it still came as something of a shock to actually realize that they were going home to Jerusalem and to Issacharoff’s retirement from the foreign service. After almost five years in Germany, where they made many friends and had numerous memorable experiences, it was time to pack their suitcases.
Although the Israeli residence in Berlin is large – 1,000 sq.m. – Issacharoff and his wife could not invite all the people they wanted to invite, because there simply was not enough room to fit them all in. But there were diplomats, politicians, business leaders, Jewish community leaders and Israeli colleagues. Among the Israelis present was KAN 11’s resident reporter in Berlin, Antonia Yamin, who actually reports from all over Europe. But this time she was present not so much as a journalist but as a guest.
Issacharoff is retiring from the Foreign Service after having devoted the major part of his life to it, but no doubt, because of his vast knowledge and experience, he will be headhunted by several think tank groups, so he’s not likely to be idle.
Kam, who has her own Global Strategies company, is a seasoned PR professional with long experience in working with international media and in implementing short- and long-term strategic communications, crisis communications, quantitative and qualitative public opinion research, international relations and philanthropy. During the time she spent in Berlin, she continued to run her company by remote control, and will in all probability continue with a hands-on operation.
■ MEANWHILE, THIS week a delegation of 10 senior parliamentarians from the Defense Committee of the German Bundestag visited Israel to strengthen bilateral relations. Initiated and hosted by ELNET, an organization dedicated to strengthening ties between Europe and Israel, the delegation was led by a woman, Dr. Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, who chairs the Bundestag Defense Committee and is also deputy leader of the Free Democratic Party.
The delegation’s itinerary included meetings with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi and Ram Ben Barak, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
In addition, the delegation visited the naval base in Haifa and experienced firsthand the Hezbollah tunnel system uncovered by the IDF.
Shai Bazak, CEO ELNET-Israel, said: “Hosting such an important delegation from Germany in Israel during these times of major geopolitical shifts in Europe, in light of the war in Ukraine, speaks volumes to the importance of the German-Israel relations. Now, more than ever, it is especially significant that the German Defense Committee members gain an in-depth understanding and exposure to Israel’s security system, and mutually exchange knowledge for a more advanced and secure reality.”
■ WHILE ISRAELI and Irish diplomats prefer to focus on issues they agree upon more than on those on they disagree on, not everyone with a foot in both camps believes that Ireland is well disposed toward Israel.
In a lecture given to Herzliya Cultural Group last week by Alan Shatter, former Irish justice and defense minister, he made no bones about Ireland’s negative attitude toward Israel, particularly the rise in support for populist party Sinn Fein, which is strongly critical of Israel and seeks to delegitimize its existence. Sinn Fein has long established links with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and there is a strong possibility that it could head the next government. A Jew walking down the center of town anywhere in Ireland runs the risk of verbal abuse and physical attack.
According to Shatter, the Israel Embassy in Ireland is not receiving much support from the home front in combating this situation.
Of course, Israel is more interested in Iran, regional alliances and the war in Ukraine. On the latter score, former MK Ksenia Svetlova will address HCG on Thursday, March 31, at 11 a.m. She will speak on “Russia’s war against Ukraine – A new world order.”
■ UNITED HATZALAH, the volunteer-based international emergency medical services organization, this week received a $1 million donation from Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Meta and founder of Lean In and Option B. Joining Sandberg in making the gift was her fiancé, Tom Bernthal, founder and former CEO of Kelton Global. This donation will directly benefit United Hatzalah’s rescue efforts in Ukraine and provide medical and psychological treatment as well as humanitarian aid for refugees.
Since the conflict started in Ukraine, United Hatzalah volunteers have been on the ground providing medical care, food, transportation and more. To date, the team has served tens of thousands of meals, set up advanced field hospitals in targeted areas, provided much-needed medical care inside refugee centers, and organized countless flights for refugees to flee to Israel. The organization is also evacuating vulnerable people from inside Ukraine by ambulance, including Holocaust survivors and newborn babies.
“What is happening right now in Ukraine is heartbreaking,” said Sandberg. “I am proud of the work United Hatzalah of Israel is doing to provide emergency medical care to refugees on the Moldovan border. It is critical that organizations and individuals step up to support the Ukrainian people.”
“The need for humanitarian assistance has never been more dire, and I am extremely proud of what our volunteers have accomplished overseas,” said Eli Beer, president and founder of United Hatzalah. “We are doing our part in providing necessary assistance to hundreds of thousands of refugees who have made their way into Moldova and other countries, and this donation will continue to make those efforts possible. We couldn’t be more grateful to the Sandberg family and all they have done.”
As of this week, the organization has brought more than 2,000 refugees from Romania, Moldova, and Austria to Israel. Each flight includes between 100 and 160 refugees onboard and is fully staffed by United Hatzalah medical personnel to provide in-flight humanitarian aid and medical care.
“United Hatzalah is a force for good in the world,” said Danielle Elyse David, development director of United Hatzalah. “We are immensely grateful to Sheryl, her fiancé, Tom, and her parents, Adele and Joel, for their tremendous support, which allows our medics to drop everything and rush in to help others and save as many people as they can.”
Two years ago, when Beer, in the course of a fundraising campaign in Miami, came down with a severe case of coronavirus, which almost cost him his life, Dr. Joel Sandberg, who sits on United Hatzalah’s Miami executive board, became his medical advocate, and was in constant touch with Beer’s doctors and family.
■ THE ISRAEL Lifesaving Federation, headed by Paul Hakim, and the Viking Surf Sports UAE, headed by former world champion lifesaver Steve Munnery, signed a memorandum of understanding on Monday at the Australian Pavilion at the World Expo in Dubai.
One of the reasons that the Australian Pavilion was chosen is that Hakim is originally from Australia, as are many ILSF members; and because surf lifesaving is part of the Australian way of life.
The signing event was attended by John Cavanagh, Australian deputy consul-general and trade commissioner – Dubai, Expo 2020; Dubai commissioner-general for Australia Justin McGowan; a delegation from the Royal Moroccan Life Saving Federation, which specially flew in for the ceremony; Khalid Bencheikh, consul-general of Morocco in Dubai; several ambassadors, officials and dignitaries from across the Middle East; as well as businesspeople and even a delegation of Nippers – surf lifesaving participants aged five to 12.
In short, the MoU ceremony made a big splash.
■ ONLY TWO weeks after arriving from Poland to Israel, Valentyna Veretska, 32, a refugee from Ukraine, won the women’s race last Friday in the Jerusalem “Winner” Marathon, finishing in 2:45:54. While she is in Israel with her 11-year-old daughter, her husband remains in Ukraine, fighting against the Russians.
Interviewed in English on KAN Reshet Bet by Yaara Shapira, Veretska said that it was difficult to maintain contact with her relatives in Ukraine, but she had managed to speak to her husband after the race and he told her that he was proud of her.
When Shapira asked Veretska if she regarded herself as a refugee, Varetska’s English seemed to desert her, and it was obvious that it was a question that she was reluctant to answer. She pretended that she did not understand it. Shapira defined the meaning of refugee for her, and after a long silence Veretska said that she worries a lot about her country, but did not answer the question one way or the other.
■ COMBINING FUNDRAISING with culture, Beit Issie Shapiro held a gala event last Sunday to mark its 40th anniversary. The venue was the Tel Aviv Museum, which is exhibiting works by famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, which guests at the gala were able to view. Proceeds were earmarked for the Beit Issie Shapiro Emotional Therapy Center, and the event was sponsored by Discount Bank.
Among those present were Beit Issie Shapiro founder and Israel Prize laureate Naomi Stuchiner, BIS CEO Amir Lerner, Sasha Trump-Weiss, chairwoman of the BIS board; Discount Bank chairman Shaul Kobrinsky; and Discount CEO Uri Levin.
Lerner noted that BIS has revolutionized education and research for people with disabilities. “We have made a real change over the last 40 years, and we are here to continue to do so and to effect change for at least another 40 years,” he said. Kobrinsky underscored that the bank employs people with disabilities “as part of our vision and in realizing the importance of integrating them into society and enabling them to be employed.”
■ POPULAR SINGER Miri Aloni, who spent six months in Ichilov Hospital following the amputation of one of her legs, has managed to remain in high spirits, and jokes that she can achieve anything all on one leg.
That must be part of the unique character of the entertainment industry. The late actress Hannah Meron was severely injured in a terrorist attack on Munich Airport in 1970, and one of her legs had to be amputated. After recuperating, she returned to the stage and the screen, retained her sense of humor, and remained active till 2014. She died at age 90, three years after her retirement.