Grapevine December 28, 2022: Based in Boston

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 US AMBASSADOR Tom Nides on a Christmas camel, outside the Old City of Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
US AMBASSADOR Tom Nides on a Christmas camel, outside the Old City of Jerusalem

Israel’s consul-general in New England, Meron Reuben, has served in his present post since November 2020. He was previously chief of state protocol, and before that ambassador to Paraguay, Bolivia and Columbia. He was also Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations. Reuben, who is presently on home leave to visit his mother, who lives in Shoresh, has a diplomatic career that spans some 35 years.

The consuls-general across America function very much like ambassadors, but are very pleased when Israel’s actual ambassador to the United States comes to visit, as was the case in early November when Ambassador Michael Herzog and some of his Washington team visited Boston. It was Herzog’s second visit, and Reuben and his team organized a mix of political, academic, community and cultural events, which, according to reports, went off quite well.

For all that, getting Israel’s message across in Boston is not easy, says Reuben. This despite the fact that there are some 250 Israeli companies – mostly hi-tech – operating in Boston and providing considerable revenue for the Massachusetts taxation department.

As far as Reuben is aware, Massachusetts has the third largest community of Israeli expats in the US after New York and California, and the total Jewish population is in the range of 250,000. Of these, he says, only 45% are affiliated with a synagogue or a Jewish organization, and only 8% of Jewish children attend Jewish day schools. In addition, the rate of intermarriage is quite high.

As far as Reuben can tell, there is no unifying factor in the Jewish community. Different organizations do their own things and don’t work in tandem, he said. Large pockets of the Jewish community live in Brookline, one of the largest towns in Massachusetts, which is part of metropolitan Boston and has long been popular with Jews. For all that, it’s difficult to find a kosher restaurant in Brookline.

Reuben’s task is challenging because New England Jews are, by and large, liberal and progressive, and don’t care much about Israel. More often than not, they are critical and look at Israel with a jaundiced eye. Media reports of the intentions of some of the members of Israel’s incoming government are not helpful in winning friends and influencing people, but the task of Israeli diplomats abroad is being made easier with the expansion of the number of senior staff in embassies and consulates.

While in Boston, Reuben keeps his finger on the pulse of what is happening in Israel; and while in Israel, he has been keeping his finger on the pulse of what is happening in Boston.

DISTURBING REPORTS of factories closing down and hi-tech enterprises being transferred to countries abroad can be countered by those being launched in Israel.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t guarantee jobs for all those who are suddenly left unemployed, but at least some of them will be able to find work almost immediately.

An example of a launch is that of PTC, a Boston-headquartered global software company whose president, Jim Heppelmann, arrived at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology last week to launch his company’s new offices on the Technion campus. Heppelmann met with Technion president Prof. Uri Sivan and with its senior management team, toured the laboratories, and met with faculty members.

A formal cooperation agreement between the company and the Technion includes an investment of NIS 15 million to establish a unique research and development center within the Technion that will initially employ approximately 100 people. lt is expected that the number of employees will expand in the future. In addition, PTC will participate with the Technion in joint research in strategic areas that include 3D printing, the Internet of Things, augmented reality and simulations, and will assist in the development of curricula that match industry requirements.

“Today we made history in terms of cooperation and tightening of ties between academia and industry,” said Sivan, in thanking PTC for helping to fulfill a significant part of the Technion’s vision.

“Scientific and technological breakthroughs today require close cooperation between academia and industry,” he emphasized. “In the past three years, the Technion has worked to build a new ecosystem with industry and promoted examining commonalities on campus. The technological world around us is advancing and changing rapidly. Cooperation with PTC anchors a long-standing relationship between the Technion and the company and is important to us in all aspects, both in terms of the contribution to the education and training of our students and to the creation of joint research on campus.”

Heppelmann cited examples of similar cooperation globally.

“All over the world, the importance of cooperation between academia and industry is recognized,” he said. “As a company whose clients include giant companies such as Toyota, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Audi, Caterpillar, General Electric, Samsung, Dell, Toshiba [and] Motorola... we witness that they are constantly looking for ways to improve their production and development. I have no doubt that research conducted at the Technion will help us improve our products, which help companies improve processes. At the same time, the Technion will benefit from helping us train the engineers of the future.”

THE PANDEMONIUM caused by reports of possible new legislation that will enable providers of various services to refuse them to potential clients for religious reasons is reminiscent of another horrific era in Jewish history. There were places that had signs that Jews and dogs were not allowed on the premises.

Considering that Amir Ohana, an openly gay legislator, is designated to be a minister in the government, does that mean that proponents of a law that allows a hotel manager to deny entry to gay people will refuse to sit at the same table as Ohana at government meetings? Worse still, if Ohana should accompany a visiting counterpart to a hotel, and is denied admission on the basis of his sexual orientation, what will that tell the world about Israel?

■ AMERICAN CITIZENS living in Israel have been griping over the very long waiting period for the renewal of their American passports. They can leave Israel on valid Israeli passports, but they need their American passports to enter the United States. Israelis have a much longer wait to have their passports renewed or issued for the first time.

Realizing how unfair it would be to deprive the country’s citizens of the opportunity to travel abroad, the Population and Immigration Authority, a couple of months back, announced that holders of foreign passports would be permitted to leave and enter Israel on their foreign passports.

A lot of Israeli travelers will continue to bless Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, even after she is out of office.

■ IF LIKUD MKs who once held ministerial portfolios are disgruntled by the crumbs that are left for them, women who have reached the upper echelons in the business world are even more so.

Those who belong to the Israel Women’s Network are sufficiently concerned by the paucity of female representation in the new government to write a letter to prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu. The letter represents 150 women in executive positions who state that from personal experience, they know the value added by women sitting at the decision-making table. They have asked Netanyahu to put more women in key roles in the government, before announcing its composition. In so doing, they have asked what sort of an example is being set for young girls when they see the scarcity of women at the negotiating table and in the decision-making process?

■ IT HAS been stated several times in this column that Tel Aviv has a far better attitude than does Jerusalem when it comes to the restoration of old buildings.

Further proof of this was evidenced this week during a press tour of the recently completed Elkonin Hotel, which was initially built in 1913 in Neveh Tzedek by Russian immigrants Malka and Menachem Elkonin. It was the first hotel in Tel Aviv, and remained operational till 1940. It was subsequently used as an office building till the 1980s, after which it stood empty and neglected for several years. It had been acquired by an investor from Panama, who did nothing with it. The property was again purchased 14 years ago by French entrepreneur Dominique Romano and the MGallery chain, which is one of the many brands under the Accor umbrella.

Romano, who heads the family-owned Guibor multi-sector investment company, whose interests include the Tour de France, hi-tech, media, restaurants, hotels and real estate, invested a fortune in the restoration and expansion of the Elkonin. It is not his only investment in Israel, particularly in Tel Aviv, which he says he loves. Among his other Israeli holdings is the old Eden Cinema, which he also plans to restore and turn into a hotel and cultural center.

As for the Elkonin, the original structure, which has been has been carefully restored by Bar Orian architects, is larger in size than in its first incarnation, but blends beautifully with its environment. Interior designer and creative director Adriana Shor sought to preserve the historic ambience of the building by creating architectural models characteristic of Tel Aviv at the onset of the 20th century. Indeed, to look at it from the outside is like stepping back in time, as is the case with many old buildings in Tel Aviv which have been beautifully restored as reminders of Tel Aviv as it once was.

Romano said that he was excited to breathe new life into the Elkonin.

The hotel, which is scheduled to open next week, will contain a L’Époque restaurant from the famed Robuchon group. Joel Robuchon was a prizewinning French chef who, way back in 1989, was hailed as the chef of the century. From the age of 15, he worked in various hotels and restaurants, learning different techniques and recipes, until he reached the status of executive chef, after which he soon gained two Michelin stars. Among the chefs he later mentored was internationally-known celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.

Robuchon opened restaurants bearing his name in various cities around the world, through which he accumulated a total of 32 Michelin stars.

He died of pancreatic cancer in August 2018, but his legacy and his influence on French cuisine remain.

L’Époque is the first restaurant of the Robuchon group in Israel. Unfortunately, it is not kosher. The chef is Eugene Koval, who has previously worked as head chef in various Israeli prestige restaurants, but knows his way around French gourmet cuisine. Wines served with meals will be imported from France.

Part of the pampering in the hotel will include a Clarins spa. Needless to say, Clarins is one of France’s leading cosmetics companies.

■ A GROWING trend in the hotel industry is to provide weekend cultural retreats. In 2023, given that it’s Israel’s 75th anniversary year of independence, many of the hotels will be focusing on nostalgia. At the Golden Crown hotel in Nazareth, for instance, the entertainment during the weekend of January 6-7 will take guests back to the time when Israel, especially pre-state Israel, derived much of its income from agriculture rather than industry, and performers will direct their talents to harvest songs that were composed by kibbutz-bred icons such as Naomi Shemer, Nahum Heyman, Yoram Taharlev and Matti Caspi, and by David Zehavi, who was one of the founders of Kibbutz Na’an, and who lived there for 50 years until his death.

Among the performers will be charismatic singer guitarist Moshe Lahav, who is the founder of a nationwide community singing project, Hatish Hagadol (The Big Table). His repertoire is totally Israeli, and includes songs that have become immortalized regardless of new musical trends and genres.

■ ANOTHER OF Israel’s most beloved singers is Yehuda Poliker, who celebrated his 72nd birthday on December 25.

Although the date is associated with the birth of Jesus, it is amazing how many famous Jews and Muslims were born on that date. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was born on December 25, as was political and cultural activist Geula Cohen.

Among some other famous people born in December, albeit not on December 25, were Aura Herzog, founder of the Council for a Beautiful Israel, who was born on December 24, as was singer Yaffa Yarkoni. And on December 28, Yehoram Gaon, who is still performing, will celebrate his 83rd birthday.

■ THE PASTORAL hotel at Kfar Blum has been providing weekend cultural programs for years, and on February 23-25 will pay tribute to deceased singing stars Arik Einstein and Shmulik Kraus, as well as to Shaike Ophir, the country’s first mime artist and one of the country’s most talented comedians, singers, stage and screen actors, playwrights, screenwriters and directors. As a mime he appeared on stage with Marcel Marceau, reputed to be the greatest mime of all time.

In addition to the musical entertainment, there will be a lecture by Maya Kadishman, the daughter of noted Israeli painter and sculptor Menashe Kadishman. The lecture is aptly titled “Draw me a sheep,” as Kadishman was famous for his paintings and sculptures of sheep.

■ US AMBASSADOR Tom Nides is truly a man for all seasons. Last week, he joined in an egalitarian Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall. Just before Christmas, outside Jerusalem’s Old City, he rode a Christmas camel and ho-hoed with Father Christmas. To cap it off, toward the end of Hanukkah, he was back at the Western Wall with inter alia Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz – neither of whom seemed to mind the fact that a Reform Jew was lighting the candles. How refreshing in the current political-cum-religious climate.

■ THE LIBRARY of President Isaac Herzog, who is known to be an avid bookworm, is growing, despite an extraordinarily busy schedule. He received Hebrew books from Yediot Aharonot publishing and volumes in English from Gefen publishing.

That was the case this week when Ilan Greenfield, who heads Gefen Publishing, accompanied author Nathan Efrati and Joey Low to present Efrati’s book The Golden Land and the Holy Land: American Jewry and the Yishuv in the late Ottoman Period.

Herzog, who was already familiar with the book, having read it in the original Hebrew, had found it to be very comprehensive and filled with material that is not generally known. He thought it was a wonderful book.

Although Americans seem to have touched every aspect of life in Israel, many people assume that this is only since the founding of the state, and that their contribution was primarily financial. But Efrati brings to light a relationship that existed prior to the British Mandate over what was then Palestine.

The book would have been of interest to Herzog under any circumstances, but more so because he had been asked to author its foreword. After reading the book in Hebrew, he was convinced that it should be translated into English.

Low, a philanthropist and former New York businessman, who with his wife moved to Tel Aviv four years ago, supported the project. Three of their four children also live in Israel. Low is a graduate of the famous Ramaz School, which has produced many great Jewish leaders. Herzog himself was a student at Ramaz during the period in which his father served as Israel’s permanent representative at the United Nations.

As a university student, Low studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, but even though he loved Israel, he returned to New York. If his name sounds familiar, it may ring a bell with regard to a television reality show which he helped in its attempt to achieve its goal, which was to improve Israel’s advocacy. He worked together with Nachman Shai, and the two kept audiences guessing for weeks on end as to which of 14 young Jews from Israel, Europe and the US would walk away bearing the title of the show, The Ambassador. The idea was to find someone who was a quick thinker, and could come up with answers to deflate any kind of verbal attack on Israel, and could prove their ability to cope with criticism and with heckling.

As for Efrati’s book, Low said he liked it a lot. The only regret he had was that some of the problems elucidated in the book still exist – namely, that there are still many American Jews who feel no sense of identification with Israel, and are even anti-Israel. That was the case more than a century ago. It was a terrible period for the Jews of the Holy Land, Efrati explained, because during the First World War, they were cut off from Europe. Turkey and Germany sided against Britain, France, Russia and Serbia. The Americans were neutral until April 1917, when they entered the war which had been raging for two-and-a-half years.

Their entry was opportune for Chaim Weizmann, who was busy trying to gain support for what later became the Balfour Declaration. In England he had to battle Edwin Montagu, who was opposed to a Jewish state because he thought that it would prove to be a rallying ground for antisemites in every country. Efrati prefers to think of Montagu as an anti-Zionist. But because of Montagu, Weizmann desperately needed support from American Jewry, which, just like today, was divided into pro- and anti-Zionists. But he found the support he needed in justice Louis Brandeis, for whom Kibbutz Ein Hashofet is named. Brandeis, a leading figure in American Zionism, visited what was then Palestine in 1919.

The book is available on Amazon, and will be an eye-opener for both Israeli and American Jews.

■ THE KASHRUT certification of the US-headquartered Orthodox Union is recognized throughout the Jewish world, and American ambassadors who happen to be religiously observant Jews, when taking office in a foreign country, call on the Orthodox Union to send people to kasher their kitchens.

In 2023, OU Kosher will celebrate its centenary. The OU itself was established in 1898, and its kosher division was founded in 1923 by Abraham Goldstein. Based in New York, it claims to be the certification agency for approximately 70% of kosher food worldwide. Its CEO is Rabbi Menachem Genack, and its COO Rabbi Moshe Elefant.

■ MANY PEOPLE with social media accounts have been badgered this past month with requests for financial aid for charitable organizations in Israel, the US and elsewhere; marketing campaigns; notifications that they are eligible for loans of NIS 100,000 and even more; offers to build a website or to improve an existing one; and revelations by fake lawyers of so-called inheritances with requests for personal details that would enable the sender to rob a naive recipient blind.

Among the appeals for financial aid is one that has a male or female first name as the sender. When opened, it reveals a sad story of a terminal illness or a family reduced to poverty because one of the parents has died, or an orphan who is cold and starving. All the stories are heart-wrenching, but can be traced to a single source, which immediately arouses suspicion. The organizations, some of which started simply to fulfill the desire of a single person, never let up. Some of them are more in the nature of a business than a social service.

The marketing campaigns are the most obvious, and the offers for loans, which come very frequently, are not always what they seem to be and in some cases emanate from the gray market. Sending all these messages to spam is almost useless. They pop up again like a jack-in-the-box. However, there is something that can be done about the marketing campaigns.

The Israel Consumers Council, which has a complaints department and a legal department in addition to various other departments, is currently running a “Don’t call me” advertising campaign to alert the public to its activities. The benefits of modern communications technology are marred by harassment from unwelcome efforts to sell us something we neither want nor need.

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