Grapevine March 22, 2023: The quest for a legacy

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 FROM LEFT: Eilat Lieber, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Dame Vivien Duffield and President Isaac Herzog.  (photo credit: ODED ANTMAN)
FROM LEFT: Eilat Lieber, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Dame Vivien Duffield and President Isaac Herzog.
(photo credit: ODED ANTMAN)

It seems that President Isaac Herzog is determined to leave a legacy. In the first 18 months of his term, it appeared to be a legacy of successful diplomacy, especially with regard to Turkey, Egypt and the Gulf states. But this may wane in comparison to Israel’s social and political disintegration. Herzog has devoted time and energy to so-far futile efforts to bring about a semblance of peace and harmony. If that effort ultimately succeeds, he will earn his place in history. But as things stand, there is no immediate likelihood of success. 

In last Sunday’s Grapevine, it was mentioned that Herzog had renamed the Medal of Distinction established by president Shimon Peres to honor civilians who had made important contributions to the state and to society, in favor of the Medal of Honor. He is now calling for architects and artists to present proposals for the design of the Medal of the President of the State to be awarded on the 75th Independence Day, which does not leave much time for creative thought.

One would presume that such a matter has already been taken care of by the Israel Coins and Medals Corporation, which was established by prime minister David Ben-Gurion in 1958 for the purpose of commemorating national and historic events as well as outstanding personalities. It was owned by the government until 2008, when it was privatized, but it continues to fulfill its original task by minting special gold and silver coins, which not only commemorate and celebrate but also are an investment for people who acquire them.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, there is also the President’s Prize for Volunteerism, which is conferred annually on individuals and organizations. Is there really a need for a third President’s Prize? A profusion of president’s prizes reduces the significance of each of them.

■ TIMING IS not quite everything, but it runs a very close second place. When former finance minister Moshe Kahlon announced in January 2020 that he was retiring from politics, he must have had some premonition of what lay ahead. He stepped out of the political arena in time to avoid headaches and hostilities. He doesn’t have to fight with friends and colleagues. He doesn’t have to persuade anyone to vote for something in which he himself may not believe, and he doesn’t have to worry about budgetary allocations. These days Kahlon has a much more pleasant task. Even though he is a director on the boards of several companies, he and his wife, Liora, are more or less full-time grandparents who enjoy taking their grandchildren on outings,

 MOSHE AND Liora Kahlon with their grandchildren at the Hadera Technoda science museum.  (credit: ANAT MACHNAI) MOSHE AND Liora Kahlon with their grandchildren at the Hadera Technoda science museum. (credit: ANAT MACHNAI)

A doting but very relaxed Kahlon was seen with his wife and grandchildren at Technoda, the Hadera science museum, where they had just as much fun as the kids at the “Ami and Tami” exhibition.

The Irish Embassy 

■ IRISH AMBASSADOR Kyle O’Sullivan had a long weekend of celebrations last week, beginning on Wednesday with the traditional Saint Patrick’s Day reception, which he brought in early due to two factors: (1) since Saint Patrick’s Day this year fell on Saturday, religiously observant Jewish guests living outside of Tel Aviv would be unable to attend; (2) Thursday, which ordinarily would have been an alternative, was the “day of national disruption.”

Nonetheless, on Thursday, O’Sullivan was able to make his way to Ben-Gurion Airport to attend the inauguration of El Al’s first flight to Dublin, which is one of several routes opened by Israel’s national carrier. Also present were Airports Authority chairman Yitzhak Gershon, El Al chairman Amikam Ben Zvi, El Al CEO Dina Ben Tal Ganancia and Transportation Minister Miri Regev.

At the Saint Patrick’s Day reception, O’Sullivan made the point that it was a celebration, not a commemoration. “No significant event happened on this date many years ago,” he said. “It is just a day we take once a year to celebrate Ireland with our friends.”

Commenting that this is not the easiest of times, not just in Israel but in the region and the world, O’Sullivan said that, alongside the problems, there is much to celebrate. This year, he noted, Ireland is celebrating 50 years of EU membership and also seeing much improved EU-Israel relations.

Ireland is also celebrating 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to the violent conflict to which the residents of the Emerald Isle had long been subjected.

“We have found a way for national minorities and majorities to share space and government, and to settle their disputes in the parliaments and in the courts,” said O’Sullivan. “It is not perfect, and it took a long time to get there, but the killing has ended.”

From a diplomatic perspective he did not presume to ask Israelis to learn from what had been achieved in Ireland, “but perhaps you could look at the mistakes we made and try not to repeat them,” he suggested.

Just as the Irish cherish peace for themselves, O’Sullivan wished peace for Ireland’s neighbors, for Israel and its neighbors, including the Palestinians.

“Israelis deserve peace, security, prosperity and a land of their own. So do Israel’s neighbors,” he said.

In the close to four years that O’Sullivan and his family have lived in Israel, he has been impressed by Israel’s diversity, its tolerance and its resilience.

“Those values are being tested now in Israel on the streets and in the Knesset,” he remarked. “Israelis have much to work out between themselves on how this country will be in the future. Israelis have vitally important decisions to make, and have equally important values to guard.”

Like many of his colleagues from other countries when celebrating their national days, O’Sullivan did not overlook the situation in Ukraine.

“While the people in Israel and Ireland enjoy a measure of security, the people of Ukraine do not,” he said. “Russia’s cruel war of aggression continues. Ukraine deserves the support of all countries.”

He commended Israel for the impressive steps it has taken to aid Ukraine, but urged Israel, Ireland and the EU to do more.

Due to the political situation, there was no government representative at the event, though Deputy Knesset Speaker Moshe Tur-Paz showed up to join the ambassador on stage to raise a toast.

Had there been a minister, he or she might have learned something that would help to put Israel back on an even keel.

■ CONGRATULATIONS ARE in order to Israel’s best known public relations guru and television personality Rani Rahav and his wife and business partner, Hila, on the engagement of their son Roye to Graziella Drahi, daughter of communications tycoon and international philanthropist Patrick Drahi and his wife, Lina, whose Israel holdings include i24 News. The wedding, with a guest list that will include a global who’s who, is scheduled for September 30, which happens to be on a Saturday during Sukkot.

■ DEMANDS FOR a constitution are increasing, especially from the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which has spent a fortune on full-page newspaper advertisements addressed to the president, the prime minister and members of both the coalition and the opposition. The advertisements are signed by the movement’s president, retired Supreme Court justice Ayala Procaccia, former Supreme Court justice Menachem Mazuz, MQG chairman Eliad Shraga, former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Ami Ayalon, former director-general of the Defense Ministry Ilan Biran and Prof. Barak Medina, the rector of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Shraga is a serial demonstrator who has been participating in protests against what he believes to be injustices for some 40 years. As a young man, he could be sometimes seem as a sole demonstrator opposite the President’s Residence from the time that Israel’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog, was in office.

■ THE RIGHT to die to end suffering – euthanasia, or mercy killing – runs counter to Jewish law, in which almost every commandment can be broken in order to save a life. But there are people with painful and debilitating diseases who want to stop their suffering and to die with dignity. Some go to Switzerland to do so. Some simply take an overdose of drugs, and some persuade a relative, friend or doctor to help them put an end to their lives.

Deciding on the termination of personal suffering is something that is gaining momentum in Israel, and a symposium on the subject by Lilach, the organization that believes in the right to live and die with dignity, will be hosted at the Reich Center, 106 Arlosoroff Street in Tel Aviv, from 9 a.m. on Friday, March 31.

Lilach helps people who want to take their leave from life. Lilach bracelets will be available at a booth at the entrance to the auditorium for people who do not want to wait until nature takes its course.

Speakers will include former MK and television personality Miki Haimovich, former health minister and more recently ambassador to France Yael German and Lilach chairwoman Dr. Anat Maor, who will discuss the subject from a variety of perspectives.

The Jerusalem Foundation 

■ THESE DAYS, it’s almost impossible to avoid politics or an allusion to politics in conversation, says James Snyder, executive chairman of the New York-based Jerusalem Foundation Inc.

Snyder, who was in Jerusalem last week, only three weeks after his previous visit, in a sense killed two birds with one stone. He was in Israel on this occasion to attend the ceremonial reopening of the Davidson Center’s Archaeological Park, plus a tribute event to Dame Vivien Duffield, who through the Clore Foundation established by her late father, Sir Charles Clore, is the key donor behind the multimillion-dollar Tower of David renewal project.

Snyder, a former long-term director of the Israel Museum, will again be back in Israel next week for a Jerusalem Foundation prize-giving event. Snyder is a member of the steering committee of the Tower of David Museum, and cannot speak highly enough of the choices made by Tower of David Director and chief curator Eilat Lieber and her team.

Though preoccupied with trying to prevent a civil war resulting from the manner in which judicial reform is being handled, President Herzog took time out to attend both the Davidson Center and the Tower of David events, where he and others could not refrain from speaking about or alluding to the chaotic situation in Israel at the present time.

Also present at the Davidson Center opening were Eytan Davidson and his mother, Karen, the son and widow of the late William (Bill) Davidson, who established the Davidson Foundation, and of course Darin McKeever, president and CEO of the William Davidson Foundation. The Davidson Center reopened after being closed for three years.

Last Thursday evening, Duffield, along with 100 people whom she had brought with her to Israel – some of them first-time visitors – was the center of attraction, given that she has had a love affair with the Tower of David since 1967, when Teddy Kollek took her to see the magnificent structure, whose flagstones date back to the Hasmonean period. Dame Vivien recalled that, being a very romantic young woman at the time, she saw the Tower of David as a magic castle. It was her first real project as head of the Clore Foundation, and it will always have a very special place in her heart, she said. 

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, for whom urban renewal is a paramount goal, in his own address, thanked Herzog for his initiative in trying to bring representatives of the government coalition and the opposition to the negotiating table.

Even if Herzog were not president, it was a given that he would be invited, taking into account that his late father, president Chaim Herzog, had been present in 1989 when the museum first opened.

In acknowledging Vivien Duffield, the Duffield family and the Clore Israel Foundation for their contributions to Jerusalem and the museum, which will open to the public on June 1, Lieber said that without their support, it would not have been possible. Planning took 10 years, and execution three years. The big challenge was to turn a historic site into a modern and accessible museum without destroying its ancient character, and this was successfully achieved.

Political tension

■ OUT OF the constantly evolving political chaos that has prompted so many tens of thousands of Israelis to take to the streets, new political movements have emerged or are on the verge of emerging.

One such movement that goes by the title of New Way aims to create meaningful change in society and tackle pressing issues such as economic inequality, educational disparities and social injustice. Founder Ella Issacharoff comes from a strongly activist family. If the name rings a bell, one of her brothers, Dean Issacharoff, is a former spokesman for Breaking the Silence, and her father, Jeremy Issacharoff, is a retired diplomat, whose last posting, up until a few months ago, was as ambassador to Germany.

■ VETERAN JOURNALIST Dan Margalit, who was responsible for the resignation by Yitzhak Rabin from the first government that he led, has tweeted a warning to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has advised the prime minister that if members of his family continue to compare demonstrators (against judicial reform) with the Nazi stormtroopers of 1933, Margalit will cancel his self-imposed ban on making comparisons between Netanyahu’s supporters and Nazism. If the verbal invective persists, Margalit will issue a call for everyone to refer to the prime minister as Adolf Netanyahu. The ball is now in the Netanyahu court. If Margalit’s warning is ignored, and he initiates a new nickname for Netanyahu, it will be taken up by the international media. 

Tel Aviv Fashion Week 

■ GAY FASHION designers Golan Frydman and Eddie Gavrillides, whose House of Jaffa includes fashion concepts for gays who want to be walking advertisements for their sexual orientation, are among the participants in Kornit FAC Tel Aviv Fashion Week, at Hanger 11 at Tel Aviv Port.

 IVRI LIDER at the Kornit FAC Tel Aviv Fashion Week.  (credit: RAFI DELULA) IVRI LIDER at the Kornit FAC Tel Aviv Fashion Week. (credit: RAFI DELULA)

Politics being everything in Israel, and the LGBT community fearful of being victimized under the judicial reforms, the gala opening of Fashion Week included other gays on the runway, behind the scenes and in the audience. Much of what was seen on the runway, including models and designers holding aloft large Israeli flags, reflected the political demonstrations and movements that have been sweeping the country for weeks.

Stealing the show in this respect was singer Ivri Lider, who is gay, and who paraded in a strapless blue gown with a bouffant skirt and a white shawl. The Hebrew slogan written across his chest – “Free in our country” – was a call to rescue democracy. The gown was designed by Shenkar graduate David Wexler, who has built a successful career for himself in London, and who, with this and other creations, proved that cross-dressing is not just a woman’s prerogative. Women have been wearing mannish pants suits for decades.

Several people in the audience at the opening gala specially flew in from abroad for the occasion. Among them was Rocco Ritchie, the son of singer Madonna and film director Guy Ritchie. Rocco Ritchie, who has carved a successful career for himself as an artist and gallery owner, signs his paintings “RHED.” His gallery is called by the same name because he wanted his accomplishments to be his own and not based on the fact that he is the son of two famous parents.

Also in the audience were Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and his wife, Yael, and Michal Herzog, the wife of the president, who presented the lifetime achievement award to veteran designer Hagar Alembik, whose creativity she praised as being so Israeli, on the one hand, and so universally groundbreaking, on the other.

Fashion Week was conceived by event producer and former model Motty Reif, who believes that Israel has something to show to the world.

Kushner family visit

■ THE FACT that her father, former US president Donald Trump, was facing possible arrest did not deter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, from vacationing in Israel last week. The couple, who stayed at the Kempinski luxury hotel in Tel Aviv and dined at Malka, the kosher restaurant owned by celebrity chef Eyal Shani, also visited Jerusalem with their six-year-old son, Theodore, and made a point of attending early morning services at the Western Wall.

Although she did not cover her head, Ivanka wore a calf-length, long-sleeved red dress and white flat-heeled shoes. Photos of their visit to the Western Wall were displayed on Ivanka’s Instagram account. One cannot help but wonder if her choice of dress was meant as a political statement in relation to judicial reform.

Sports in the former Soviet Union 

■ FOR MANY years now, individual Israeli sports champions were either born in the former Soviet Union or were offspring of parents who migrated from there. But now there is a new country of origin – India.

Obed Hrangchal, 28, a member of the Bnei Menashe community, was a mixed martial arts and kickboxing champion in his native India. He’s now Israel’s new kickboxing champion, having won the title last Friday. Hrangchal, who is religiously observant, is currently a student at a yeshiva in Ma’alot. He made aliyah with his parents, Gabriel and Ruth, in 2020 under the auspices of Shavei Israel.

Originally from the village of Thinghlun in the Indian state of Mizoram, the Hrangchals were the only Jews in town. In 2013, they moved to Aizawi in northeastern India, from where they came to Israel.

“I always dreamed of making aliyah and becoming an Israeli champion. I now dream of representing Israel in international kickboxing competitions,” said Hrangchal.

The damage of precedent 

■ PRECEDENT CAN sometimes be a damaging factor. In 1902, Rabbi Hermann Adler, who was the chief rabbi of the British Empire, attended the coronation at Westminster Abbey of King Edward VII.

As is the case with King Charles III, the coronation took place on a Saturday, and before leaving on foot, and escorted by police to Westminster Abbey, Adler attended Sabbath prayers in a local Westminster synagogue.

Britain’s current Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and his wife, Valerie, will be spending Friday night at Clarence House – courtesy of the king and Queen Consort Camilla – and will walk from there to Westminster Abbey on Saturday, May 6.

At a time when ecumenism has become increasingly important, as religious leaders of different faiths join forces against war, hatred and incitement, there is no doubt that the chief rabbi should accept the monarch’s invitation to attend his coronation. But there is something awry about an Orthodox chief rabbi going to a church on the Jewish Sabbath. 

Presumably, the coronation is not taking place on a regular working day, so that the British public can watch it on television. Similarly, it could not take place on a Sunday, because much of the Christian population would be in church.

At least on Friday night, Mirvis and his wife will enjoy a proper Sabbath atmosphere, and will spend the evening with Jews from the Westminster Jewish community, before returning to Clarence House.

Time for nostalgia 

■ IT’S NOSTALGIA time not only because this is the 75th anniversary year of the state, but also because people are living longer, and are looking back on what they remember being a happier period. There are many more activities for senior citizens, plus a glut of retirement homes which are offering numerous incentives for seniors to take up residence. As yet, however, no one has abolished the retirement age. While some seniors look forward to retirement and even take it early, others want to keep on working for as long as they are able. 

This is particularly evident in Israel’s entertainment industry, in law, accounting, and journalism. Until the judicial reforms are actually implemented, the retirement age for judges is 70, and lower for people in other professions. There is no retirement age for politicians or statesmen. Fashion designers can also keep going indefinitely. 

As part of the nostalgia program changing the mood in the country, the Tel Aviv Municipality has organized a Senior Citizens Week, from Sunday, March 26, to April 2, with the participation of Mayor Huldai, who is himself a senior citizen. Throughout the week there will be concerts and plays. The concerts will feature classic Hebrew songs and universal hits from the 1950s and ’60s. 

Among the more interesting events will be a production based on the stories of the pioneers of Yemenite immigration. Although it is generally believed that Yemenites came to Israel on Operation Magic Carpet between 1949 and 1950, in fact, Yemenites were already in the country at the time of the Second Aliyah.

Many of Israel’s leading singers are of Yemenite background, among them Izhar Cohen, Gali Atari, Dana International, Ofra Haza, Margalit Tza’anani and Eyal Golan. Olympic windsurfer Shahar Tzuberi is also of Yemenite origin, as is Avigdor Kahalani, a hero of the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars, a former politician and an author.

This event will take place on Wednesday, March 29, at the Dohal Center, 6 Hatikvah Street, at 6.30 p.m. Tickets are NIS 50 each and can be ordered by telephoning (03) 766-5000. For information about all the events during Seniors Week, google the Tel Aviv Municipality.