Grapevine May 25 2022: Joining forces on behalf of Ukrainian artists

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and the spiritual leader of the Druze community, Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif, in July 2021. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and the spiritual leader of the Druze community, Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif, in July 2021.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

The large auditorium of the Jerusalem YMCA was approximately 95% full, which, given the number of events in the capital last Sunday night, indicates that this was a terrific turnout for a benefit concert cohosted by the Polish and Lithuanian embassies, the Polish Institute, the Lithuanian Cultural Institute, the Lyric Opera Jerusalem and the Hebrew University, with the support of the Jerusalem Municipality.

Under the title of “Always Together,” everyone involved contributed of themselves, their time and their money on behalf of Ukrainian artists.

Dr. Sonia Mazar, who moderated the event and was also the pianist, credited Katarzyna Dzierzawska, the director of the Polish Institute, with being the driving force behind the success of the event. “Without her, none of this would have happened,” declared Mazar.

Dzierzawska, for her part, said that it was a privilege to support Ukraine. Usually, the institute promotes Polish artists, she said, but she is very pleased that so many Israeli artists had unhesitatingly agreed to support Ukraine, just as Poland and Lithuania showed support for Ukraine. It is important, she emphasized, to stay engaged, not to forget, and to demonstrate solidarity.

The concert was an interesting musical smorgasbord of Italian, French, Polish and Lithuanian opera and operetta arias and duets, plus a selection from popular musicals and songs initially sung by famous groups such as the Beatles and ABBA, with the vast majority of the performers joining in a wonderfully harmonious finale from La traviata.

It took the members of the audience a little time to warm up, but once they did, they gave enthusiastic applause to the performers Isabel Marie Haas, Ira Bertman, Rivka Falk, Monica Schwartz, Larisa Tetuev, Marta Matalon, Loretta Kay-Feld, Jacob Bowman, David Goldberg, Ido Beit Halachmi and the 40-member Hebrew University Chorus, conducted by the dynamic Dr. Anat Rubinstein.

Haas, who was the first of the performers, was accompanied by a trio of graceful young ballet dancers, who were extraordinarily light on their feet, and whose movements were perfectly synchronized.

In the foyer outside the auditorium, there was a small exhibition of works by the late Ukrainian folk artist Maria Prymachenko.

■ OTHER EVENTS held in Jerusalem within easy walking distance of each other on Sunday night included the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the extended premises of StandWithUs (SWU); an award to former ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff; and the presentation of a new dinner menu at the Waldorf Astoria.

■ A CONSISTENTLY growing Israel advocacy and education nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, StandWithUs celebrated both its 21st anniversary and the expansion of its Katz Education Center with a ribbon-cutting event enhanced by good food and entertainment. The enlarged facility, located in the heart of Jerusalem, can now host tens of thousands more visitors each year and have a virtual, digital space for online sessions and programming.

 ■ SIMULTANEOUSLY, AT the King David Hotel, newly retired ambassador Issacharoff was conferred with the Order of Merit of the Federal State of Brandenburg, by Brandenburg Minister-president Dietmar Woidke. The Order of Merit, the state’s highest honor, was awarded “in gratitude and appreciation of special services to the Federal State of Brandenburg and its people.”

Woidke was accompanied by Brandenburg Economic Affairs, Labor and Energy Minister Jörg Steinbach and a business delegation.

Their visit focused on expansion of business opportunities between Israel and the State of Brandenburg, one of the most important economic hubs in Germany. Issacharoff and Woidke each stressed the importance of intensifying the relationship between their two nations, particularly in the field of youth exchanges. “Woidke is a great friend of the Jewish people and has maintained excellent relations with Israel,” said Issacharoff.

 FORMER AMBASSADOR to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff (left) with Brandenburg Minister-president Dietmar Woidke. (credit: LAURA KAM) FORMER AMBASSADOR to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff (left) with Brandenburg Minister-president Dietmar Woidke. (credit: LAURA KAM)

Following the ceremony, the Brandenburg delegation hosted a festive meal for Issacharoff, his wife, Laura Kam (who happens to be of German-Jewish ancestry), and two of their three children, Dean and Ella, and other family members. Dean toasted his father, stating, “Not only are you a great diplomat, but you are a great dad.” The other Issacharoff son, David, is completing his last semester for a Hebrew University degree in political science at Humboldt University of Berlin, thus maintaining the family’s ties to Germany.

Issacharoff, who retired a little over a month ago, was succeeded by Ron Prosor, who had left the Foreign Service but returned when offered the plum diplomatic posting which enabled him to revisit an early stage in his diplomatic career.

Meanwhile, Issacharoff is exploring various possibilities, including consultancies and writing about special events in which he was involved during his 42 years as a diplomat in the Foreign Service. Though he retired at the mandatory age of 67, he enters this new phase of life with great enthusiasm and a desire to continue to apply his experience to diverse fields of interest, including cybersecurity and expanding ties between universities and advanced research institutes.

Curiously, this is not unlike what Prosor did when he left the Foreign Service. Prior to his present role, Prosor headed the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy.

It seems that ambassadors appointed to Germany have some kind of personal connection with the country. In Issacharoff’s case, it was his wife’s family. In Prosor’s, it is both paternal and personal. His father, Uri, was born in Germany, and in the late 1980s Prosor was spokesman for the Israel Embassy in Bonn during the period leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, which, coincidentally, took place on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

■ THIS WEEK it was announced that the new head of the Abba Eban Institute is Australian-born Mark Regev, who, prior to the appointment of Tzipi Hotovely, was ambassador to the United Kingdom, where it happens that Issacharoff was born. At 62 years of age, Regev is just young enough for a final diplomatic posting, albeit a short one, if he, like Prosor, chooses to leave academia. It’s unlikely that he would succeed Prosor as ambassador to Germany, but one never knows. Regev’s father, Martin Freiberg, was born in Magdeburg Germany, so Regev, too, has a connection there.

Regev, who is familiar to Jerusalem Post readers through his weekly column in the paper, will take up his post on July 1, 2022.

A senior diplomat with the Foreign Service, Regev has also served as senior adviser on foreign relations and international communications to Benjamin Netanyahu, when the latter was prime minister.

■ APROPOS AUSTRALIA, since the elections Down Under resulted in a change of government, Paul Griffiths, the popular Australian ambassador to Israel, is being asked again and again whether he will be recalled. “Only if I do something wrong,” is his reply. Unlike the situation in America, Australian diplomats do not resign when the ruling administration is defeated in an election.

■ FOLLOWING THE annual celebration of International Tea Day, which is observed on May 21, according to the United Nations calendar, the Sri Lanka Tea Board is planning a social media campaign for Ceylon Tea to raise public awareness of the importance of tea for sustainable livelihoods, rural development as well as the challenges, such as climate change, that the tea industry has to face.

It also hopes to educate on the health benefits of drinking tea, while aiming to popularize tea drinking around the world in order to expand demand and increase per capita consumption. “People should often drink tea. It’s good for them,” said Sri Lankan Ambassador Waruna Wilpatha.

■ SEVERAL COUNTRIES, mostly in Asia and the Pacific, are, this year and next, celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations with Israel. One such country is Vietnam, whose Ambassador Ly Duc Trung is already displaying next year’s attractive 30th anniversary logo that depicts the flags of the two countries shaped like a dove, with the Vietnamese flag providing the body, and the Israeli flag the wing.

The ambassador, who is preparing for the visit in July of a small trade delegation, will host a number of promotional events in June – mainly for Vietnamese agro-products. He is also interested in helping to generate cooperation between Israel and Vietnam on education-related matters.

■ IF ISRAELIS are frustrated by misrepresentation in the media, there is little comfort in knowing that we’re not the only ones.

Hyung-Ju Myung, a Korean journalist who has been living in Israel for 12 years, is frequently at odds with editors who have never been to Israel, but have formulated certain impressions on the basis of whatever they read on the wire services.

“There’s lots of bias,” she says, adding that when she presents material that contradicts the wire reports, she’s the one whom people back in Korea tend to ignore. They don’t want to hear the truth, because they’ve already decided on the angle of the story, and it’s usually one that casts Israel in a negative light, she said.

■ THOUGH MOST of the program of the Union Sefardi Mundial (Sephardi World Union), headed by Prof. Shimon Shetreet, was in Hebrew, a session involving Spanish Ambassador Ana Salomon and Panamanian Ambassador Adis Urieta was intended to be in English, but Urieta said that she preferred to deliver remarks in Hebrew – and did so with remarkable fluency, including the accent, which did not betray her origins. Another of the Latino ambassadors, Helen Deller Klein of Ecuador, was on hand to give moral support to her colleagues.

 POPE JOHN PAUL II with then-religious affairs minister Shimon Shetreet during a private audience at the Vatican in 1996. (credit: REUTERS) POPE JOHN PAUL II with then-religious affairs minister Shimon Shetreet during a private audience at the Vatican in 1996. (credit: REUTERS)

Shetreet is also the founder of Religion for Peace Organization, through which, in turn, he founded Culture of Peace, an ongoing international project that was launched in 1998 on the foundations of political security, economic sustainability and cultural and religious freedom.

Culture of Peace enjoys the support of the Spanish Embassy and the Cervantes Institute as well as that of Latino diplomats. Culture of Peace has held international conferences in Morocco and Jordan, among other places.

Shetreet, who believes that Sephardi Jews, particularly those who grew up in North Africa, can serve as an important bridge to peace by virtue of the fact that they speak Arabic, provided examples of prominent Israeli personalities who were of North African background, and who had broken barriers by speaking to leaders of Arab countries in Arabic. Shetreet combines the work of the Sephardi World Union with that of Culture of Peace.

In this context, he invited Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s international director of interreligious affairs, to be one of the speakers.

The British-born Rosen, who lives in Jerusalem, has made incredible contacts in both the Christian and the Muslim worlds, and was recently the only Israeli among a group of a dozen rabbis invited to the royal palace in Saudi Arabia. As far as he is aware, he is the first Israeli to be publicly received at the palace. He also sits on the board of the King Abdullah International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, along with representatives of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim religious traditions. He is on close terms with Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Issa, the Saudi Arabian secretary-general of the Muslim World League, who is well known for his efforts to promote moderation, cooperation and coexistence among people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds.

Rosen was allowed to speak ahead of his actual turn because, in addition to his global interfaith work on home territory, he also performs the regular duties of a rabbi and had to leave to officiate at a wedding.

Before leaving, Rosen emphasized the importance of dialogue, as seen with the Abraham Accords. “Dialogue leads to positive developments,” he said.

Salomon also noted that real peace derives from dialogue.

Urieta, in describing her pluralistic country, which has no army, said that it had always been a commercial center with Chinese, Indians, Jews, Arabs, Africans and others from all over comprising the population and coexisting. “Our wealth lies in the diversity of our population,” she said. “Race and religion are irrelevant.” As an example, she cited Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo, whose mother is Esther Cohen. No one cares,” said Urieta. “But we do; it’s important to us,” said a voice from the audience.

Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif had been scheduled to attend the union’s conference, but was prevented by his need to attend a funeral and sent Sheikh Yusuf Amashah in his stead with a message condemning all forms of violence, and warning that violence in the streets must not be ignored.

■ ONE OF the features of the conference was the awarding of a citation for research into the history of Spanish and Oriental Jewry. The prize was awarded posthumously to Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, who was considered to be an outstanding authority on the history of Spain in general and Spanish Jewry in particular. It was accepted on behalf of the Netanyahu family by physician, author and playwright Iddo Netanyahu, who revealed that his wife, Dafna, is busy translating his father’s works into Hebrew, so that Israelis who are not fluent in English can read some of his father’s amazing findings – for instance, that second and third generation conversos, whose forebears had been forced to convert to Catholicism, were not practicing Judaism in secret as was generally believed, but with few exceptions were committed Catholics who were fully integrated into mainstream Spanish society, holding high positions in influential spheres. This did not always save them from persecution and seizure of their properties. Historians who had perpetuated the secret Jew theory were quick to denigrate Benzion Netanyahu, but in the final analysis, it was his research that proved to be correct.

■ KOREA’S AMBASSADOR Suh Dong Gu hosted a Korean cultural event in celebration of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Israel. Political upheavals in Israel precluded the presence of a government or Knesset representative, but Israeli lawyer Ami Orkaby, the honorary consul of Korea, and MK Boaz Toporovsky, who heads the Israel-Korea parliamentary friendship group, made excellent speeches in totally fluent English. Toporovsky sent a videotaped address from the Knesset. All three men referred to the importance of the free trade agreement that was signed between Israel and Korea last year, the first signed by Israel with a country in Asia, and the first by Korea in the Middle East.

The ambassador is particularly proud of the fact that Korea, which established diplomatic ties with Israel in April 1962, was the first Asian country with an embassy in Israel.

The Korean Embassy is hosting a cultural festival May 24-27 to convey the sound, beauty and taste of Korea. All three elements were present at the reception, with embassy wives and female staff dressed in the traditional Korean kimono known as hanpok.

In addition, there was a magnificent display of the ancient Korean art of handmade paper known as hanji. Celebrated Korean paper doll-maker Yang Mi-Young had an amazing exhibition of paper dolls in different shapes, colors and sizes displayed throughout the main hall.

After the speeches, in which the ambassador characterized relations between Israel and Korea as “excellent” from diplomatic, economic and cultural standpoints, the many guests were treated to a concert of traditional Korean music by the Bulsechul music group. They then went outside to the huge garden, where buffets of an astounding variety of tantalizingly aromatic Korean cuisine had been set up. Judging by the number of people who went back for second and third helpings, one could see that these delicacies obviously scored high points with the palate.

In March of this year, South Korea elected a new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, who is said to be well-disposed to Israel. In South Korea, as in Israel, the president serves only one term. In Israel it’s for seven years. In Korea it’s for five.

Toporovsky, in his recorded address, voiced the hope that Yoon Suk-yeol would be the first Korean president to visit Israel.

[email protected]