Grapevine May 3, 2023: The gift of life

“There is no greater privilege than saving a life. Of all the things I’ve done in the army and as a civilian, this is the most meaningful."

 SHIMON PERES and Barbra Streisand embrace each other at the Jerusalem International Convention Center in 2013.  (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
SHIMON PERES and Barbra Streisand embrace each other at the Jerusalem International Convention Center in 2013.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Any family takes pride in the fact that one of its members has been instrumental in saving a life, but perhaps even more so when a close relative of a public figure does so, because the deed also enhances the image of the public figure.

Such was the case when Ramat Gan Mayor Carmel Shama Hacohen received a phone call from Ezer Mizion, the national bone marrow bank, with the news that his 25-year-old son Eyal was a suitable match for a 60-year-old male in urgent need of a bone marrow transplant.

On the morning of the procedure, Eyal arrived with his mother, Vered, and his girlfriend, Lihi. After making his donation, Eyal said: “There is no greater privilege than saving a life. Of all the things I’ve done in the army and as a civilian, this is the most meaningful. Thanks to Ezer Mizion, I was granted this great privilege.”

■ “IT WAS a pleasure to meet Victorian Gov. Linda Dessau, at my office,” tweeted President Isaac Herzog on Sunday. “Our states share rich collaborations in economy, research and beyond, while Victoria is home to the magnificent Jewish community of Melbourne. I thanked the governor for her commitment to deepening ties.”

Dessau, for her part, said later that Herzog was a wonderful man with so much depth.

Both Herzog and Dessau are qualified lawyers.

Herzog is due to visit Australia, and Victoria in particular, in 2024 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Mount Scopus Memorial College, Melbourne’s pioneer Jewish day school, many of whose alumni live in Israel.

 LINDA DESSAU, the governor of Victoria, with President Isaac Herzog.  (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO) LINDA DESSAU, the governor of Victoria, with President Isaac Herzog. (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

■ FOLLOWING HER meeting with Herzog, to which she had been accompanied by Australian Ambassador Ralph King, Dessau went from Jerusalem to Jaffa, for a dinner in her honor hosted by the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce, in celebration of Victoria-Israel business.

The dinner was attended by leading Israeli and Australian expatriate figures in health, hi-tech, defense systems, law and more, and was held at Spoons Salon, a catering enterprise run by Australian immigrant Hila Solomon out of a penthouse apartment overlooking Jaffa Port.

The apartment is semisecret, in that people who know about it, know exactly where it is, and people who don’t will have trouble finding it, even if they know the address, because neither Solomon’s name nor that of Spoons Salon is written on the mailbox or the intercom system.

Although the writer of this column has known Solomon for almost 30 years, and ate at her previous establishments in Jerusalem in Yemin Moshe and Ein Kerem, as well as in her private home in Katamon, she had not been to her present enterprise in Jaffa since Solomon had returned to Israel a year ago, after several years back in Sydney, where her family lives.

After wandering up and down the street, in what seemed to be a futile quest, the writer was spotted by Errol Ben Hamou, who says that he’s the doorman of the nearby Jaffa Hotel, but he’s actually the pleasant face of the hotel, in that he walks up and down the street, helping any passerby who needs directions. He went to a lot of trouble to try to find Spoons Salon, and finally invited the writer to come and sit down in the hotel lobby, which is spectacular, and dominated by the remains of a Crusader castle wall.

The building, which was originally a French hospital and monastery, was meticulously restored. It is owned by New York-based real estate developer Aby Rosen, for whom this is his first project in Israel, and is managed by Marriott Hotels.

■ BUT BACK to the dinner at Spoons Salon. In addition to being a charming hostess and an intriguing experimental cook, Solomon also has a gift for interior design, and always finds premises that are breathtaking in their beauty and in the environment in which they are located.

What attracted the invitees most before they sat down to dinner was the L-shaped balcony with its diverse panoramic views and its wonderful collection of large shrubs and flowers.

Speaking of her visit on this occasion, Dessau, as she had done during her previous official visit in 2018, recalled that as a young lawyer, she had spent several months at Kibbutz Sdot Yam, where her job was helping with the planting of baby avocados. She spoke about different aspects of her current visit and about some of the people she’d met, and said that there were some very good collaborations between Victoria and Israel. Victoria opened a trade and investment office in Israel in December 2017.

The good news for people who travel fairly frequently between Israel and Australia is that El Al will be launching three direct flights a week, sometime in 2024.

Dessau also spoke about the Victorian government’s decision that it has to keep on investing in start-ups. It has allocated $30 million to the Venture Growth Fund.

Tom Dillon, Victoria’s agent-general to the United Kingdom and commissioner to Europe and Israel, endorsed some of what Dessau said, and added that he was very pleased to see Kobi Taibel, the regional director of SIBAT, the International Defense Cooperation Directorate of Israel’s Defense Ministry, which generates government to government agreements; initiates visits of official foreign delegations; identifies opportunities for cooperative opportunities with the Israeli defense industry; finds relevant technological solutions for specific requirements; establishes joint ventures; manages the marketing and sales of IDF inventory; and provides in-depth information on Israel’s industry through a biennial directory and the organizing of Israel National Pavilions at international defense exhibitions.

In dinner conversation, Taibel, who has been with the ministry for 30 years, said that he liked going to Australia “even though it’s a bit of a schlep.” He conceded that it would be less of a long haul once El Al introduces its regular flights, but pointed out that it would still take more time than flights to other destinations. When the conversation turned to America, he said that Israel is much more liberal in the exchange of knowledge than is America.

The prime minister's son

■ NO MATTER where he is, Yair Netanyahu, the elder son of the prime minister, cannot escape media attention. Since his recent move to Florida, which reportedly, in both the Israeli and American media, came about because his parents think that his intensive social media activity is harmful to both his father and to Israel, Netanyahu Jr. been in media focus.

The New York Post, in reporting on his activities, stated that it was unclear whether Yair has moved to Florida indefinitely, or whether he has simply distanced himself in order to figure out what he wants to do with his life.

Arab English-language media are also keeping tabs on Yair.

Return to normalcy

■ DURING THE COVID-19 pandemic, doomsayers forecast that the world would never return to normal; economies would suffer ongoing downturns; in-person contact would be minimal; unemployment would rise dramatically, and hospitals would be unable to accommodate all the sick.

By and large, these dismal outlooks have proved to be erroneous. However, at least one legacy of COVID remains – the Zoom conferences. It’s not that they didn’t exist before. They did, but to a much lesser degree. But during COVID, media organizations, universities and various institutions all got on the Zoom bandwagon and expanded to live streams on their websites, Facebook pages and other social media platforms. None of that has really subsided. To the contrary, on the in-person level, it has increased.

The Jerusalem Post held two full-house conferences in Jerusalem in April, and has another coming up in New York in June – and there have been others earlier in the year. Yediot Aharonot and Haaretz have many in-person conferences.

But let’s be honest. A large percentage of conference hogs do not come to listen and learn – but to network. That’s what it’s all about – making new contacts for companies, organizations and institutions. Otherwise, why would panelists, who barely speak for more than five minutes each, travel vast distances, taking hours out of their working days to make brief appearances on conference stages?

Among those appearing at the most recent Jerusalem Post conference, Celebrating the Faces of Israel, held in partnership with the Museum of Tolerance, Jerusalem, the Post’s new editor-in-chief, Avi Mayer moderated a discussion between US Ambassador Tom Nides and his predecessor David Friedman (who received a standing ovation from the largely Republican supporters among the large cohort of American visitors). Mayer asked Nides what he wished he had been told by Friedman, to which Nides replied that he wished he’d been told more about real estate. “He sold my house!”

After the US Embassy relocated to Jerusalem, the sprawling mansion in Herzliya Pituah that had been the official residence of American ambassadors for more than half a century was sold in 2020 to the late Sheldon Adelson for $67m.

■ AT THE same conference, the Post’s Palestinian Affairs correspondent, Khaled Abu Toameh, interviewed Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas. Although the conference was primarily in English, the interview was conducted in Hebrew, even though the mother tongue of both men is Arabic.

Toameh, who is totally fluent in all three languages, translated all that was said into English. At some point, Abbas, who understands and speaks English quite well, but not as well as Toameh, forgot himself and spontaneously lapsed into Arabic, causing Toameh to do the same, but continuing to translate. Then they decided that in order to save time, the questions would be in English, but the responses in Arabic. Then they went back to Hebrew. Just a small example of a pluralist society in which each component maintains its own culture.

■ TOO OFTEN, people holding senior rank in praise-earning, humanitarian aid organizations take all the kudos for themselves. Not so Yael Eckstein, the president and CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which was founded by her late father in 1983. The daughter, who has expanded on its activities, especially in Ukraine and helping Ukrainian refugees, received The Jerusalem Post Humanitarian Award from Mayer and Rabbi Shlomi Peles, executive director of the Jewish Relief Network Ukraine. Interviewed by Maayan Hoffman, Eckstein kept citing the names of different partner organizations, without whose cooperation much of what the IFCJ had achieved would not have been possible. Giving credit where it’s due is all too rare an occurrence.

As for Peles, who was for many years the right-hand man of business tycoon and philanthropist Lev Leviev, he certainly has a clear understanding of the importance of cooperation in all categories of humanitarian aid. Needless to say, he’s a Chabadnik. As in most countries in which there are Jewish communities, rabbis from different streams of Judaism have established congregations and followings throughout Ukraine, but Chabad appears to dominate, and in most cases its representatives have remained with their congregants who could not or would not leave Ukraine.

■ ONE PENULTIMATE item about the conference, as reported in Haaretz, was a photo exhibition documenting the history of Israel from 1931 to the present time. Among the photos selected by curator Anna Patricia Kahn was one by Israel Prize laureate Micha Bar-Am taken during the Yom Kippur War. The image was of a naked soldier at the Suez Canal, taking an improvised shower. His genitals can be seen in the photographs, but only just, as the photo is taken from an angle that shows the soldier in a ballet-like stance, in which his left leg, with the foot pointed outward, covers the major part of his right leg.

Bar-Am, 91, did not come to the opening of the exhibition, which was by invitation only, with Herzog and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis among the invitees. Bar-Am’s wife, Orna, and son Barak did attend, and were shocked to see that the photograph was not on display. When they inquired, they were told that it had been removed in order not to offend the sensibilities of Orthodox visitors to the exhibition. After a brief dispute, the Bar-Ams left in anger. Nudity in art has long been accepted by galleries, museums and the general public. If it bothers you, don’t look. It’s only one item among many.

 FLORIDA GOV. Ron DeSantis waves during ‘The Jerusalem Post’ conference titled ‘Celebrate the Faces of Israel’ at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem last week.  (credit: REUTERS) FLORIDA GOV. Ron DeSantis waves during ‘The Jerusalem Post’ conference titled ‘Celebrate the Faces of Israel’ at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem last week. (credit: REUTERS)

■ APROPOS DESANTIS, he likes to tell the story of how all three of his children were baptized with water from the Sea of Galilee, and he told it again in Jerusalem last week.

The first time that he and his wife, Casey, came to Israel together, not long after their marriage, they did not yet have any children, but when they visited the Sea of Galilee, Casey DeSantis filled a bottle with water from the lake and took it back to Florida. Water from the bottle was later used to baptize their first child. Cleaning crew afterward saw it on a table and disposed of it. DeSantis and his wife had not been used to people picking up after them before they took residence in the Florida Governor’s Mansion, so they never thought to lock up or label the bottle.

Later, when addressing a synagogue congregation, DeSantis happened to mention the incident, and within 24 hours there was a huge new bottle of water from the Galilee which had been specially sent from Israel. That water was used to baptize their second child and then their third.

■ MOST OF the guests attending the Independence Day reception for diplomats and heads of religious communities that was hosted by Herzog were unaware that, in a sense, it was also the farewell party for Eylon Levy, the president’s foreign media spokesman, who was the fourth consecutive presidential spokesman with a British background.

Yair Zivan went from being the English-language spokesman for president Shimon Peres to being a strategic consultant for Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid. Jason Pearlman, who succeeded Zivan, went from being a spokesman for president Reuven Rivlin to being a strategic media consultant to various prominent individuals, organizations and institutions. Jonathan Cummings who succeeded Pearlman and completed his tenure with Rivlin, is now the English-language spokesman and media consultant for Labor Party chairwoman Merav Michaeli.

Levy, after nearly two years as Herzog’s spokesman to foreign media, though highly appreciative of the privilege of working with the president and being present for meetings with an international galaxy of who’s who in politics, diplomacy, academia, the arts and more, felt that he needed to reclaim his life. It was a wonderful and memorable experience, but he had to be on call around the clock, and there was no such thing as a regular working day. He had moved to Jerusalem and had rented an abode within a five-minute walk of the President’s Residence.

He is now back in Tel Aviv and has a few freelance writing jobs lined up, in addition to which he will also do some book translating from Hebrew to English. A successor has not been announced. All four former spokesmen have plummy British accents, but Levy, who was previously a television broadcaster, was also an occasional master of ceremonies at presidential events, and earned the admiration of people who did not know that he possessed this particular talent.

■ WINNING THE 10th anniversary Genesis Prize was by way of a birthday gift for Barbra Streisand, who turned 81 on April 24. One of the few people who have won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards, it did not seem that Streisand had any more awards to win. What may have clinched it for her was her support for Ukraine.

In January of this year, the Genesis Prize Selection committee published a statement in which it said: “The past 11 months have been unlike any previous period in the 10-year history of the Genesis Prize. We have witnessed war, destruction and human suffering on a scale unseen since World War II. Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives; millions abandoned their homes, jobs, schools and families. As countries neighboring Ukraine became inundated with refugees and faced disruptions to their energy supply, the economic fallout from the war has been felt throughout the world, impacting tens of millions of lives far beyond the conflict zone.

“But we have also witnessed human kindness, compassion and activism on an unprecedented scale. Across the world, thousands of individuals and organizations were moved to action – making a moral choice to volunteer, donate money, shelter refugees and engage in political advocacy.

“Recognizing the extraordinary nature of events dominating the past 11 months, the Genesis Prize Selection Committee has decided to depart from the usual custom of awarding the prize to a single Jewish individual. Instead, the committee has elected to announce a collective award to Jewish activists and NGOs who were inspired by the brave citizens of Ukraine and their courageous president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and chose to act on their Jewish values by standing up for freedom, human dignity, and justice.”

However in the final analysis, it was Streisand who was the committee’s choice, and who will hopefully come to Israel for the award ceremony.

Streisand was last in Israel 10 years ago for the mega celebration of the 90th birthday of then-president Shimon Peres. She came with her husband, James Brolin, her son, Jason Gould, and her half sister, Roslyn Kind. She and Peres had known each other for a long time, and at the birthday bash at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, she sang “Avinu Malkeinu,” which was a Peres favorite. Before returning to the US, she gave a jam-packed concert at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv.

Past winners of the million-dollar Genesis Prize are Michael Bloomberg, Michael Douglas, Itzhak Perlman, Sir Anish Kapoor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Natalie Portman, Robert Kraft, Natan Sharansky, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Steven Spielberg, and Albert Bourla.

Portman, the Jerusalem-born actress who was the 2018 recipient of the prize, backed out of attending the award ceremony in Jerusalem, which is always a glittering occasion. Portman, who holds both Israeli and American citizenship, gave as her reason that recent events in Israel had been extremely distressing for her, and that she did not feel comfortable participating in public events in Israel. She did not specify what those events were. As a result of her decision, the ceremony was canceled, and Portman came in for some caustic comments from Likud MKs and supporters, who accused her of supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The Genesis Prize is awarded to Jewish activists and NGOs who support humanitarian causes. The prize money does not go into their bank accounts, but is redistributed to causes they nominate.

Jewish, as far as the Genesis Prize is concerned, is not confined to the halachic definition. Douglas, for instance, is the son of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, but considers himself “a member of the tribe.”

■ THERE HAS already been considerable publicity regarding the honorary doctorates to be conferred by Bar-Ilan University on members of the Zehu Ze! entertainment troupe – Dov “Dovaleh” Glickman, Avi Kushnir, Gidi Gov, Shlomo Bar-Aba and Moni Moshonov. But they won’t be the sole recipients of honorary degrees on May 15 within the framework of the 75th anniversary celebrations of the state and the 68th annual meeting of the BIU Board of Trustees.

Also, part of the cap and gown parade will be former IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi; internationally renowned artist Sigalit Landau; Rabbi Yaakov Medan, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, who served in the Airborne Nahal Infantry unit and fought in the Golan Heights as a liaison officer in the Yiftach Brigade during the Yom Kippur War, and who, together with the late Prof. Ruth Gavison, drafted the Gavison-Medan Covenant, a blueprint for defining the relationship between religion and state in Israel; Prof. Joan Steitz, of Yale University, an award-winning pioneer in  the field of RNA biology; and Atidim, which identifies high-potential young people from Israel’s underserved periphery and invests in their education, enrichment, empowerment and pursuit of excellence.

Kushnir had an additional reason for rejoicing last week. His son Yotam, an actor, got married to singer Nofar Katav.