Grapevine November 18th, 2022: Upstaged

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 HANNI ARNON (second right) at the award ceremony at the Princess of Naradhiwas University in Thailand. (photo credit: THAI ROYAL FAMILY)
HANNI ARNON (second right) at the award ceremony at the Princess of Naradhiwas University in Thailand.
(photo credit: THAI ROYAL FAMILY)

Public speakers and entertainers are frequently warned to beware of the presence of infants and dogs, who are bound to attract attention and steal the show. That’s what happened on Tuesday at what is mistakenly referred to as the swearing-in ceremony at the Knesset.

Israel does not have a swearing-in ceremony on a Bible or a Koran.

It is a declarative ceremony in which a statement of loyalty to the state and its laws is read aloud after which the name of each legislator is called out and he or she rises to say: “Meethayev/et ani,” which translates either as “I undertake” or “I am obliged.”

Be that as it may, MK Sharren Haskel had some difficulty in handling her cute baby twin daughters, who captured the attention of many MKs near her, and diverted them from the speeches that were made. 

In an unhappy, coincidental symbolism, teenager Moshe Holtzberg, who as a two-year-old survived a terrorist attack in Mumbai where his Chabad emissary parents Rabbi Gabi and Rivki Holtzberg were murdered, read Psalms in their memory at the Knesset’s opening session on the same day that three Israelis were murdered by a terrorist.

■ IT’S A given that any US ambassador stationed in Israel would be invited to a Hadassah National Convention in Jerusalem. But in the case of Tom Nides, there was more to it than the usual protocol. For one thing, Nides is Jewish. For another, his late mother was president of Hadassah in Duluth, Minnesota, where the ambassador, the youngest of eight siblings, was born. “I’m here because my mother told me to be,” he quipped, as he spoke about how Hadassah had been an ongoing source of discussion in his home.

 US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides shaking hands with Former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (credit: Gil Shimon US Embassy) US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides shaking hands with Former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (credit: Gil Shimon US Embassy)

The occasion was the Hadassah Honors Night at which Michal Herzog, the wife of the president of the state, and Marlene Post, who has been a Hadassah leader for more than 50 years, were honored. Each received a standing ovation following videos about them in which they also spoke, and after which they gave live addresses to an enthusiastic crowd in the ballroom of the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria.

Post probably received more applause and for a more sustained period because the 400 Hadassah members who came to Israel from all over the US know her longer and better, and agreed with all the superlatives that prominent Hadassah figures showered on her.

In congratulating them, Nides said he had been made to feel like a member of the family in the Herzog home.

Current Hadassah National President Rhoda Smolow, in introducing Michal Herzog, acknowledged that in Israel, unlike America, there is no first lady, “but for us, she is our first lady.”

Herzog, who was born on May 15, which happens to be the Gregorian date of the anniversary of Israel’s independence, said that growing up she had always envied her parents because they were part of the founding generation of the state.

When her husband became president, she said, she had not been sure of what her role would be because he, not she, was the one who had been elected. But they decided together to act as a team in which she is the soft power.

One of her key interests is mental health and well-being and the removal of stigmas from mental illness.

She was the recipient of the Power of Esther Award, which was conferred for the first time. The biblical Queen Esther was born with the name Hadassah, which in English would be Myrtle. When she became queen of Persia, it was important that she hide her true identity, and her name was therefore changed to Esther, which as a word on its own means “I will secrete.”

Herzog, who is a strong believer in womanpower, said Esther was a perfect example of soft power.

“Hadassah is proof of how far a woman’s voice can carry a nation,” she said.

In congratulating Marlene Post, Herzog called her “an inspirational force.”

Indeed, Post has filled almost every executive role in Hadassah and has represented Hadassah in other Zionist organizations. She was also one of the founders of Birthright. Various Hadassah past presidents and other executive members referred to her as a consummate lay leader, volunteer, mentor, a woman of valor and a role model, and spoke of her energy, her courage, her generosity, her charm and her caring.

No one mentioned her infectious sense of humor, which makes her a combination of Joan Rivers and Lucille Ball, but it came out during her speech, and had people rocking with laughter. 

But there were also serious moments when she described Hadassah as “an inclusive organization working for the entire Jewish people,” and said “Hadassah is an organization that heals and has made a huge difference in many people’s lives.”

She had a lot more to say, but was politely asked to wind up, though she managed to elicit a few more laughs before she actually did so. She is the recipient of Hadassah’s highest accolade, the Henrietta Szold Award, named for the organization’s founder.

■ HAVING SHIED away from publicity for years, American expats Pamela and Aba Claman, who live in the Old City of Jerusalem, will find themselves in the limelight on November 28 as honorees among the recipients of the annual Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize awarded to immigrants from English-speaking countries who have made an impact on life in Israel.

The prize is awarded in different categories, and the Clamans, who are among the most hospitable people in the capital, will receive it in the category of Community Service and Non-Profit Organizations. 

The couple are co-founders of Thank Israeli Soldiers. They founded their ever-growing organization, which also has branches abroad, because they are extremely appreciative of the hardships that soldiers endure while defending the safety and security of the nation. They have opened their home to soldiers, have initiated R&R and cultural facilities for them, have launched celebrations on army bases with barbecues, dancing and more.

Other than this organization, which is close to their hearts, they are active in other organizations and are generous donors to various charities. Their Shabbat and holy day table, which is very long, always has room for one more or two or three. Friends and neighbors call them to ask if they can accommodate another individual or small family, and the response is always in the affirmative. 

Moreover, on Friday nights, Pamela Claman goes to pray at the nearby Western Wall – but not only to pray. She always comes home with people who had not been invited to anyone else’s home for a Shabbat meal. In fact, the Clamans never know exactly how many people will be enjoying their hospitality.

No one stays a stranger. Aba Claman asks everyone at the table to introduce themselves, and if they have anything to say relating to the Torah portion for the week, to go ahead and do so. He interacts with each of the guests, who are often 40 or more in number. 

Everyone has a good time, because no one is permitted to feel out of place. Tourists who have eaten at the Clamans call them when they come to Israel again to ask if they might join them for another Shabbat meal. New friendships are made around the table, where there is also a lot of singing of Carlebach melodies.

■ MANY THAI students have come to the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT) to upgrade their knowledge and to learn about methods that are different to those they traditionally practice. In appreciation of this, and of the long standing cooperation between AICAT and academic institutions in Thailand, AICAT founder and director Hanni Arnon has been awarded an honorary doctorate in agriculture by the Thai Royal Family. The award ceremony at the Princess Naradhiwas University was held in the presence of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, high-ranking academics and local dignitaries.

Each year, AICAT trains approximately 1,200 students from developing countries in Asia and Africa, providing them with both theoretical and practical studies.

AICAT works in cooperation with government ministries, educational institutions around the globe, with foreign embassies in Israel and with other agricultural entities.

These ongoing contacts help to enhance Israel’s bilateral and multilateral relations, and earn much goodwill towards Israel.

■ THERE IS evidence to confirm that Georgians have lived in the Holy Land since the 5th century CE. Although his embassy is in Tel Aviv, Georgia Ambassador Lasha Zhvania resides in Jerusalem, and is convinced that the day will come when the embassy will also move to Israel’s capital. 

Because Georgia has such deep roots in Jerusalem, the Georgian Embassy has joined forces with Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi to co-host a morning seminar on Friday, November 25 to introduce both the Christian and Jewish Georgian communities and their relationship to Zion.

Participants will be greeted by the ambassador, and following brief lectures, there will be traditional Georgian refreshments, after which participants will go on tour to the Valley of the Cross, where some thousand years ago, Georgia’s national poet Shota Rustaveli wrote his famous poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.”

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