Grapevine June 29, 2022: A cultural bridge

Movers and shakers of Israeli society

 INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN and philanthropist Aaron Frenkel.  (photo credit: MORAG BITAN)
INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN and philanthropist Aaron Frenkel.
(photo credit: MORAG BITAN)

Frequently in the audience of the Gesher Theater over the years were Isaac and Michal Herzog, who initiated an amazing theatrical event this week to pay tribute to the memory of Gesher founder and director Yevgeny Aryeh, who died in New York in January this year at age 74, and to simultaneously celebrate the 30th anniversary year of Gesher, which is arguably one of the most successful projects of cultural bridging and immigrant absorption.A catwalk-cum-stage had been erected in the main hall of the President’s Residence, flanked by five rows of seats on each side.

Moderated by the impressively versatile Gilad Kletter, who also acted, sang and danced, while a potpourri of excerpts from various Gesher productions against a video-taped backdrop on a giant screen showing scenes from the actual productions resulted in a wonderful cabaret-style performance by numerous members of the Gesher ensemble. They had the audience – mostly regular Gesher patrons – clicking their fingers, clapping their hands and tapping their feet in time to the music. They even joined in the singing of a Hebrew version of “Imagine”.Among those present were former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Culture and Sport Minister Hili Tropper, chairman of the Friends of Gesher Board Israel Makov and its director Ruthy Heilpern, Gesher director general Lena Kreindlin, former Israel ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman and his wife Janice, and many other well-known personalities.

Events at the President’s Residence usually last somewhere between 30 minutes to an hour, but this one went on 90 minutes, with addresses by Herzog, Tropper, Makov, Kreindlin, and translator, writer and playwright Roy Chen. In between acts, they made their remarks about what Gesher had achieved in contributing to Israel’s culture, and identifying the talents of young thespians, training them to the point of excellence and instilling in them dedication to their profession. There was also mention of memorable productions, and of how Gesher was a true bridge between Russian and Israeli culture. It was difficult at the beginning, said Makov, but it had not taken long for Israelis to become enamored with Gesher and to join its circle of friends.

In speaking of the legacy of Yevgeny Aryeh, Makov noted that there is new potential among recent immigrants from Russia and Ukraine.

Herzog, employing the “All the world’s a stage” line from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, drew a parallel to its continuation, citing Gesher as the player of many parts. He also said that the celebration was incomplete without Yevgeny Aryeh, but that it was nonetheless a celebration. Chen, who said that he had constantly been learning from Aryeh, also employed a Shakespearean quote – this one from Hamlet. Turning to the Friends of Gesher, he said “‘To be or not to be’ depends entirely on the presence of an audience.”

 MICHAL AND President Isaac Herzog with Gesher actors and crew.  (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO) MICHAL AND President Isaac Herzog with Gesher actors and crew. (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

Kletter, as moderator, turned to Tropper, and prefacing a request with the comment that he was aware that he should not be saying anything political, said that he just wanted to do so in two words “Please stay.”

Acknowledging that Aryeh was a complex, albeit brilliant character who was never satisfied, Kreindlin said that he would not have liked the tribute performance.

This was perhaps borne out in an on-screen scene in which Aryeh had staged his own funeral, emerging from his coffin to address the mourners gathered around him. “Cry”, he ordered them. But he found fault with the way they cried. Then, as a hard task master, he ordered them to laugh. But their efforts in this regard also displeased him.

“You don’t know how to cry, you don’t know how to laugh,” he chastised them. Actually they do and so did the audience.

Slovenian Independence Day

SOME OF the guests invited to the Slovenian Independence Day reception, last week, speculated that perhaps in view of the fall of the government there might not be a minister present to represent the government.

But their doubts were misplaced.

Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel believes that for as long as he remains in office, his role is to communicate – and that’s what he continues to do.

 COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER Yoaz Hendel speaks at the Slovenian Independence Day reception, while Ambassador Andreja Purkart Martinez watches and listens.  (credit: SLOVENIAN EMBASSY) COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER Yoaz Hendel speaks at the Slovenian Independence Day reception, while Ambassador Andreja Purkart Martinez watches and listens. (credit: SLOVENIAN EMBASSY)

Hendel showed up at the ambassador’s spacious art and flower-filled residence in Herzliya Pituach, and as is his habit, injected a few sentences of his own into the speech prepared for him at the Foreign Ministry.

“We are in a boring period. Everything is quiet,” he said with a big grin on his face, before launching into his prepared address in which he said that Israel had been happy to recognize Slovenia and warmly welcome it into the community of nations when it achieved independence in 1991.

Noting the excellent relationship between Israel and Slovenia, especially in the areas of artificial intelligence, technology and cyber security, Hendel attributed the ongoing success of this relationship to Ambassador Andreja Purkart Martinez.

He also congratulated Slovenia’s relatively new Prime Minister Robert Golob who was elected in April, adding: “We are heading for elections. I hope you can congratulate us.”

Both Hendel and Purkart Martinez referred to last year’s Israel Air Force emulation of the parachute jump by Hannah Senesh and 36 other pre-State paratroopers who parachuted into Slovenia in an effort to fight the Nazis. The jump by the IAF marked the 100th anniversary of her birth.

The ambassador also spoke of Slovenia’s commitment to social justice and sustainable development, which offers great opportunities to both countries through people-to-people projects.

She was happy that direct flights between the two countries will help to enhance people-to-people contact.

Other than during the speeches, the three-piece Ram Erez Jazz Band played softly in the background, without any breaks and covered the musical generation gap with a repertoire that ranged from golden oldies to new musical compositions. The ambassador provided enough food to feed an army, with waiters and waitresses circulating non-stop among the guests with a variety of appetizers. After the ceremony, there was a huge buffet that was ravenously attacked as if people had not been eating ever since their arrival.

What was strange, however, was the absence of the anthem of the European Union. It is customary at official ceremonies hosted by heads of diplomatic missions whose countries are member states of the EU to feature the flags of their own countries, the host country and that of the EU, and to play all three anthems. The flags were in place but the EU anthem was omitted.

Bastille Day

IT MAY have nothing to do with the anticipated presence of US President Joe Biden (POTUS) in Israel, on July 13 and 14, but in all probability, French Ambassador Eric Danon, who is familiar with regular traffic congestion, is also aware that when a US president comes to Israel, the traffic problems multiply because so many roads on which POTUS will travel by car will be closed – either for the duration of his stay, or from a couple of hours ahead of his travelling schedule. Thus, Bastille Day has been brought forward by two days and will be celebrated on July 12.

Upcoming tourism promotions

ALTHOUGH HE has not yet presented his credentials to President Herzog, mainly because other new ambassadors who are scheduled to begin their tenure during the summer have not yet arrived, Vietnamese Ambassador Ly Duc Trung has been busy promoting his country and recently hosted a tourism seminar with the aim of attracting both business travelers and bona fide tourists.

Vietnam, of course, is not the only country preparing the ground for a revival in tourism, while still coping with the corona virus pandemic. Other countries are doing likewise and happily, many countries have more or less returned to normal.

Among the tourism promotions scheduled for the near future is one from the Visegrad countries led by Slovakia, which will take place at the Renaissance Hotel in Tel Aviv, on July 12 and is geared to promoting tourism in Central Europe.

Established in 1991, the Visegrad Group is an alliance of four Central European countries: Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, which have formulated a joint tourism project under the slogan “Discover Central Europe”.

The event will be attended by senior personnel from various branches of the tourist industry from all four countries.

Fallen heroes 

IT’S DIFFERENT strokes for different folks, and in Israel, it doesn’t necessarily depend on financial status or criminal convictions. For instance, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, while under investigation, on trial, in prison and following his release, retained the friendship of many prominent personalities, and before and after his incarceration was and is on high society and diplomatic guest lists.

Similarly, former defense minister Itzik Mordechai, who was a general in the IDF and military hero before entering politics, stood trial for allegations of sexual harassment and assault both in the army and in civilian life, and was given an 18-month suspended sentence. The trial, the reason for it and the conviction did not affect his social standing. He continued to be invited to high profile events. Not so former president Moshe Katsav, who was convicted on rape charges and spent five years in prison. Following his release, he has led a quiet life and is rarely seen outside his hometown of Kiryat Malachi.

Katsav recently published his autobiography. The fact that it received publicity created somewhat of a furor in both traditional and social media outlets. Mordechai also published a book at approximately the same time and received a completely different response. Military heroes have long been holy figures in Israel – tarnished perhaps, but not untouchable. Among those who, last week, attended the launch of his book For My People and My Country – Fighter, Commander, Leader in Tel Aviv were President Isaac Herzog, former president Reuven Rivlin, Olmert, former prime minister Ehud Barak, Defense Minister Benny Ganz, former defense minister Moshe Yaalon, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, former chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot, who is expected to enter the political arena in the next elections, outgoing Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, chairman-elect of the Jewish Agency Doron Almog and several army top brass.

Mount Scopus

WHEN SOMEONE in Israel speaks of Mount Scopus, the presumption is that they are talking about the Hebrew University. But there’s another Mount Scopus in the world’s southernmost continent. It’s Mount Scopus Memorial College, the pioneer in Australia’s Jewish Day School Movement, which was established more than 70 years ago, and now has thousands of graduates living and working in many parts of the world, including Israel.

In fact, there are several hundred Mount Scopus Old Collegians living in Israel, as proved several years ago, when a reunion was organized in Jerusalem under the auspices of the college principal Rabbi James Kennard. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. The school has expanded and so has the Old Collegians population in Israel.

Now, what promises to be the largest ever gathering of Australians in Israel, is scheduled to take place on January 3, 2023. January is the summer holiday and long school vacation period in Australia. It’s also the hottest time of the year, so the delegation led by David Gold and Mark Joel, president and CEO respectively of the Mount Scopus Foundation, will be happy to come to Jerusalem in the winter, which is mild in comparison to that of Melbourne. The Mount Scopus Foundation largely comprises Old Collegians who want to give back to the school. Many are affluent and have distinguished themselves in diverse careers, and some have seen their children and grandchildren grow up at a fine Jewish school which is constantly developing.

Gold and Joel will be leading the entire 10th, 11th and 12th grade classes, as well as numerous alumni and their families, to join with alumni in Israel and their families in a gala night of reconnection, reminiscence, musical performances and several surprises. Guest of honor at the event is someone who is not an Old Collegian, but who has been to Australia and who is familiar with Melbourne’s strong Jewish community and its long-time, intense commitment to Israel. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, President Isaac Herzog will be the guest of honor.

Old Collegians living in Israel who are interested in attending the reunion and getting updates as the time for it approaches should visit www.scopusfoundation.org.au/israel-event.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Yahrzeit

CHABADNIKS AROUND the world will devote greater attention to the teaching of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, which this year falls on Thursday, June 30, slightly in advance of the 28th anniversary of his passing. The Rebbe died on the third day of Tammuz.

Despite the fact that he was the last member of the Chabad dynasty, the impact of his teaching gains in strength from year to year, as new Chabad communities with ever growing followings are established. In Jerusalem, there are Chabad Centers in almost every neighborhood. Among the various events commemorating the Rebbe is one that will take place at 8 pm in Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue with the participation of Rabbi Yossy Goldman, president of the Rabbinical Association of South Africa, singer Eli Marcus, and Avi Kay, the father of Eli Kay, the Western Wall tour guide and former Lone Soldier from South Africa who was killed by a terrorist last year.

A similar event will be taking place a few meters down the road from the Great Synagogue at Yeshurun Synagogue, with singer Shuli Rand. The very fact that two Chabad functions are taking place in non-Chabad synagogues in such close geographic proximity is yet another indication of the goodwill generated by Chabad. The event at the Great Synagogue is being run by Chabad of Talbieh-Mamilla and the one at Yeshurun by Chabad of Rechavia-Nachlaot.

Labor party

ISRAEL’S LABOR party has an unfortunate tradition of unseating its leaders. During the present millennium, it has been chaired by Ehud Barak twice, Amram Mitzna, Shimon Peres, Amir Peretz twice, Shelly Yachimovich, Isaac Herzog, Avi Gabay, and present incumbent Merav Michaeli, who despite her strong leadership, could easily be ousted on July 18, following the dissolution of the Knesset.

The Labor Party executive is meeting on June 30 to plan for general elections has agreed to bring its internal leadership elections forwards to July 18. At this stage, it is not certain who will run against Michaeli in the party’s leadership race and it’s quite possible that she will be re-elected. But at the time of going to press, political developments were still guesswork.

Busdriver strike

NOT TO be confused with each other are Hahistadrut Haklalit shel Haovdim B’eretz Yisrael (Israel’s General Federation of Labor), that was established in 1920, and is generally referred to as Hahistadrut; and Hahistadrut Haleumi (the National Association of Labor), which was established by Jabotinsky in 1934. The latter, in response to Sunday’s announcement by the Labor Party that it would hold primaries on July 18, published a larger than quarter page advertisement in Ha’aretz on Monday, stating that Michaeli had failed as transportation minister to resolve the problems of public transport. Aside from buses being caught in traffic snarls and not enough trains to carry all the would-be passengers, one of the major problems is the inadequate salaries paid to bus drivers. The solution to this particular problem lies not in the hands of the Minister for Transportation, but in those of the Minister for Finance.

Israel Ireland Friendship League

GIVEN THAT much of Ulysses, the magnum opus of celebrated Irish writer James Joyce is set in Dublin’s Little Jerusalem, it seemed appropriate for Irish expats in Israel to celebrate the centenary of the book’s publication and fame of its legendary hero, the fictitious Leopold Bloom in the Dublin pub in the real Jerusalem. The event, a cooperative cultural effort by the Israel Ireland Friendship League and the Israel Association of Writers in English, was attended by Irish Ambassador Kyle O’Sullivan and his wife Carol, and the outgoing deputy chief of mission at the Irish Embassy, James O’Shea, for whom this was also a farewell party. O’Shea, his wife and children will be returning to Ireland after four years in Israel.

IIFL chairman Malcolm Gafson, reminded O’Shea that his first outing in Israel had been to Gafson’s sukka, and that they had been friends ever since. Gafson also mentioned that the Irish expats in Israel constitute the most unique group of Irish expats in the world, because while they are closely linked to Jewish tradition, they are also very Irish. O’Shea, who grinned in agreement, said that he and his family had enjoyed their time in Israel, which had been very interesting, and they would be taking many positive memories with them when they return home. He also promised to come back.

O’Sullivan, commenting that Ulysses is very much a book about exiles, said that it was appropriate to celebrate the book’s 100th anniversary in Israel, because “Israel is a place where people know about exile.”

For the enlightenment of those who have not read the book and who are unfamiliar with Joyce, Gafson provided some background including the fact that it had taken Joyce eight years, from 1914 to 1922, to complete the book and he had not been living in Ireland when he did. Gafson also noted that Leopold Bloom, whose character was based on that of a real person by the name of Alfred Hunter, has become a universal character, known by many who have never read the book or even heard of it.

Michael Kagan, the key representative of the IAWE, read a long excerpt from the book, and managed to get his tongue around a Joycean lexicon of words almost, but not quite impossible to pronounce.

Molly Bloom’s monologue was read by actress and theater director Gabriela Lev, while in the background throughout the evening multi-talented violinist Yonatan Miller played almost non-stop and obviously enjoyed what he was doing. In fact, at Gafson’s request, Miller, who has recorded with several top performing artists, did something he’s never done before: combine Klezmer and Irish music. The result was the genesis of a new genre moving from the plaintive to the Irish jig and back, and concluding with a beautiful, soulful rendition of “Danny Boy”.

For readers who were not there but would have loved to have heard some of the program, Arieh O’Sullivan of REKA Radio’s English Department was there to record, and will feature part of the event this evening, at 8.15 pm

New president of Sapir Academic College

SAPIR ACADEMIC College has a new president in the person of Prof. Nir Kedar, who has been elevated from his position as the college’s vice president for academic affairs. He formerly served as dean of Sapir’s Law School, and as a professor of law and history at Bar Ilan University.

Kedar holds a bachelor’s degree in law and history from Tel Aviv University, and a doctoral degree from Harvard University in law and legal history. He was a law clerk with Judge Aharon Barak, when the latter was president of the Supreme Court. Kedar’s widely acclaimed volume Law and Identity in Israel: A Century of Debate was published in 2019.

Kedar succeeds Prof. Shai Feldman, who decided to step down after three years at the helm. In the past, Shai said of Kedar that he is “a world recognized legal expert and historian. His contribution to our understanding of how Israel’s political thinking and democratic institutions evolved in the early, post-independence years has been invaluable.”

In congratulating Kedar and expressing appreciation to Feldman for his service, Gilead Sher, chair of Sapir’s board of directors, said that SAC “is blessed with outstanding faculty and staff. The people who serve and teach here have made Sapir one of Israel’s leading academic institutions. I know Nir personally and am confident that under his leadership, the college will continue to grow and reach new academic horizons.”

EMET Prize

ON THE subject of academic horizons, the Hebrew University, which is among the oldest of Israel’s institutes of higher learning, can certainly pat itself on the back with regard to the prestigious EMET Prize. Of the six recipients who were presented with the award this week, four – Professors Amnon Rubinstein, Ruth Lapidot, Hermona Soreq and Gideon Shelach Lavi are or have been connected to the Hebrew University as alumni, researchers, faculty members or a combination of these. The exceptions were Professors Oded Lipschits and Rafael Malach.

The Dekel Family

UNABLE TO attend the fund-raiser, hosted by the Dekel family at their home in Savyon, for Israel Prize laureate Rabbi Abraham Elimelech Firer’s Ezra LaMarpeh organization, which helps sick people in Israel and around the world, international businessman and philanthropist Aaron Frankel resorted to long distance generosity: in a video call from his home Monaco, he donated $1 million (NIS 3.4 m.) to the cause.

 RABBI AVRAHAM Elimelech Firer with former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen. (credit: MORAG BITAN) RABBI AVRAHAM Elimelech Firer with former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen. (credit: MORAG BITAN)

Firer and Frankel, who were each born in Bnai Brak, have come a long way in their individual careers, with a common denominator of caring for others. Frankel provides financial support for numerous social welfare, educational and cultural causes in Israel, and Firer, a father of ten, helps people in need of sound medical advice and references to the best physicians.

Among those mingling at the fund-raiser was former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who, it is rumored, is aiming for a new career in politics.

Meanwhile, he’s very much in demand at conferences and social events. On this occasion, he was a guest speaker. Another attraction was singer Shuli Rand.

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