Grapevine December 16, 2022: Meaningful philanthropy

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 TEL AVIV University president Ariel Porat (left) with Sir Frank Lowy. (photo credit: COURTESY TAU)
TEL AVIV University president Ariel Porat (left) with Sir Frank Lowy.
(photo credit: COURTESY TAU)

Despite impending economic depressions in various parts of the globe, closing or down-sizing of multinational enterprises and rising unemployment, philanthropy is still relatively healthy.

Israeli-Australian businessman and mega philanthropist Sir Frank Lowy has donated US$18 million to Tel Aviv University in memory of his wife Shirley, who died in December 2020. Lowy, was born in what was then Czechoslovakia, spent part of the war years in Budapest, Hungary, and later in France. In 1946, he sought to go to what was then Palestine, but the vessel Yagur on which he sailed, was intercepted by the British and Lowy, along with other illegal immigrants, spent several months in a detention camp in Cyprus. Eventually, he was brought to the Atlit refugee camp, and after a brief period joined the Hagana and fought in the War of Independence. He left Israel in 1952 and headed for Australia where he started a small business in Sydney, and together with a partner later built a shopping mall that became the nucleus for the Westfield Development Corporation, which subsequently became the Westfield Group. Lowy expanded his business all over Australia and also in the UK, US and New Zealand. As one of the wealthiest people in Australia, he was appointed a Director of the Australian Reserve Bank. A keen football supporter, he was also a member of the FIFA Board. A generous philanthropist, he has donated tens of millions of dollars to a variety of causes in Australia and Israel, and held leadership roles in a number of major Jewish organizations. He was President of Keren Hayesod United Israel Appeal in Australia. Steven, the youngest of his three sons, is the Chairman of the Keren Hayesod World Board of Trustees.

Lowy came on aliyah in the first half of 2019, after selling Westfield to a French conglomerate for $32 billion. He has been actively associated with TAU for more than twenty years, chairs the Board of Directors of its Institute for National Security Studies and has also received an honorary doctorate from the university. The $18m. gift – a significant figure in Jewish tradition – will expand the activities of TAU’s International School which on Tuesday of this week was renamed the Lowy International School and dedicated to the late Lady Shirley Lowy.

The International School will in future be housed in a new, yet-to-be-constructed building in which three key activities will be launched: The Lowy Scholarship Fund for outstanding international students; the Lowy Distinguished Guest Professors’ Fund which will finance the visits of eminent scholars from abroad; and the development of new international programs and initiatives.

Lowy and his sons believe that this would be the most appropriate tribute to the memory of Shirley Lowy. “Shirley believed in education and in her 40s fulfilled a childhood dream and completed an academic degree,” said Lowy. “This tribute to my wife combines all the things that were most important to her – education, the State of Israel and empowering the new generations. The gift in her memory will benefit students and scholars in many ways and for years to come. Shirley would be happy and honored to see that her legacy is commemorated in this way.”

 FROM LEFT: Patrick Malek, Yitzhak Eldan, Dr. Raphael Nagel and Dame Joy Malka Rothenberg. (credit: Courtesy Abrahamic Business Circle) FROM LEFT: Patrick Malek, Yitzhak Eldan, Dr. Raphael Nagel and Dame Joy Malka Rothenberg. (credit: Courtesy Abrahamic Business Circle)

Memorandum of Understanding for economic diplomacy

■ A MEMORANDUM of Understanding for the promotion of economic diplomacy in the spirit of the Abraham Accords was signed this week by Yitzhak Eldan, founding president of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel and Dr. Raphael Nagel, president and founder of the Abrahamic Business Circle which is based in Dubai. The MOU was signed in the presence of Dame Joy Malka Rothenberg, the Global Ambassador of the Abrahamic Business Circle and Patrick Malek, founder and managing director of Tradeluxe Ltd.

Isaac Herzog: Israel's most active president ever

■ THERE’S CONSENSUS among people in the know, that Isaac Herzog is the most active president in the state’s almost 75 years history. Although he sometimes attends or presides over three or four or even more events in one day, Herzog cannot accept every invitation, but as his wife, Michal says: “We are a team.” Therefore she, rather than he, this week attended an event cohosted by the Embassy of Denmark and Tel Aviv University to celebrate 400 years of Jewish life in Denmark, and to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the heroic rescue of Danish Jews who were spirited out of Denmark by fellow Danes who were not Jewish, and thus evaded captivity by the Nazis. The initial purpose of the event was to promote a new book by Hannah Feigel, which through her own family’s history presents the reader with four centuries of Jewish life in Denmark. Danish ambassador Anne Dorte Riggelsen would have been happy to welcome Janus Muller Jensen, director of the Jewish Museum of Copenhagen, but since he was unable to attend in person, he made a virtual presentation of the renewed museum, which generated a lot of excitement among both Danish expatriates and Israelis who were present. Also shown was an animated film, Voices of Silence that tells the story of the rescue of Danish Jews. This was not the first time that Michal Herzog represented the presidency. She has done so several times before, though mostly she accompanies her husband, and also attends nearly all the events that are held at the President’s Residence.

Herzogs host the yiddish awards

■ ON THE following day, both Herzogs hosted the awards ceremony of the National Authority for Yidish Culture which awarded lifetime-achievement prizes for the preservation of Yiddish culture and language to collector of Yiddish books and newspapers, singer and actor and founder of the Yung Yidish cultural center Mendy Kahana and translator, writer and journalist Benny Mer. Master of ceremonies at the event was veteran broadcaster Dan Kaner who – speaking in both Hebrew and Yiddish – recalled that in the early years of the state, there was a failed attempt to suppress Yiddish. It will never again be what it was in pre-Holocaust Europe, he acknowledged, but it certainly has not died and has continued to prevail, even though many people regard it more as nostalgia than a living language.

President Herzog said that it is more than nostalgia because there are communities all over Israel for whom Yiddish is more than nostalgia. It is the language in which they conduct their lives. He noted that Yiddish has also crept into Hebrew and that he himself, while not a Yiddish speaker, throws the occasional Yiddish word or phrase into a sentence.

Dr. Sara Ziv, who chairs the Authority, noted that Isaac Bashevis Singer, who in 1978 received the Nobel Prize for literature, wrote in Yiddish. When asked why, he said that so many Yiddish expressions were simply untranslatable and gave as an example hak nisht kein chainik which literally translates as don’t bang a teapot, but which in essence means don’t be stupid or don’t talk nonsense. In addition to the two-lifetime achievement awards, an honorary mention was given to Yiddish editor and proofreader Leonid Rakhman who is one of the few people still engaged in this profession, said Ziv.

Through Yung Yidish, the preservation of Yiddish literature, song and drama, Kahana – who also performed to the accompaniment of Klezmer duo Udi Gordetzki and Alex Tessler – has given scores of young immigrants from the former Soviet Union, a key to their cultural heritage and many of them are volunteers in collecting and properly stacking books and in musical performances. Mer said that he was not a native Yiddish speaker, but had grown up listening to his parents and grandparents speaking in Yiddish, and decided to translate Yiddish literature for children and adults in a bid to preserve Yiddish culture. He had been inspired by a poem by famed Yiddish poet Avraham Sutzkever, who had written Var vat bleibn? Vos vat bleibn? – Who will remain? What will remain? Mer’s goal had been to convey the spirit of Yiddish in Hebrew. Judging by how well the very junior Kinor David singers sang on their own in Yiddish and later together with adult singer Shulamit Reznik, Yiddish still has a future.

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