Grapevine May 24, 2023: The seven-year itch

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 YAAKOV KATZ and Inbar Ashkenazi pose alongside the life-size portrait presented to Katz by the management of The Jerusalem Post Group.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
YAAKOV KATZ and Inbar Ashkenazi pose alongside the life-size portrait presented to Katz by the management of The Jerusalem Post Group.

Even though his colleagues at The Jerusalem Post had already thrown a farewell party for former editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz, the management of The Jerusalem Post Group felt that it needed to show its appreciation for the sterling job that Katz had done during his seven years at the helm of the paper.

Accordingly, Inbar Ashkenazi, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group, organized a festive dinner at the Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv, at which there were people from both the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv offices of the paper. Katz was presented with a life-size portrait of himself, though he is not sure where he might find room to hang it.

There was also a video of Katz interviewing politicians, diplomats, entrepreneurs and other public figures at Jerusalem Post conferences in Jerusalem and New York. On those occasions, he wore a suit and tie. But for the dinner in his honor, he chose a casual sports shirt and jeans, as did the head of The Jerusalem Post Group, Eli Azur, who recalled that when he met Katz for the first time several years ago, he recognized his leadership qualities and was impressed by Katz’s love of Israel and of the newspaper. He was subsequently full of admiration for Katz’s dedication to making the paper what it is today.

As for Katz, he felt privileged to have served as editor-in-chief for seven years, and he was appreciative not only of the opportunity that had been given to him, but also that both Azur and Ashkenazi were present, as were Katz’s predecessor and successor in office, Steve Linde and Avi Mayer, respectively.

Although he felt he needed a break, Katz left the job with some regrets, but fewer with each passing day. He is happy that he will no longer have to deal with problems and complaints, which can now all be directed to Mayer, and he is pleased that his phone rings less frequently.

For all that, he regards all those who were gathered around the table as part of his extended family.Just a word about the Carlton, which has been entirely renovated and remodeled. The food was good and plentiful, but could not compare with the quality of service, which was quiet, efficient and really quite outstanding. And the view at sunset from the second-floor room in which the dinner was held was simply breathtaking.

AHEAD OF Shavuot, supermarket chains are beefing up competition and lowering their prices – at least temporarily. Some are advertising comparative costs in a shopping trolley full of food products. Truthfully, this does not tell anyone the true story, because the figures they give are for the total, not for individual products, many of which various people, such as vegans, don’t buy, regardless of the price. The majority of supermarkets have some products that are cheaper than prices charged for the same items by their competitors. But they also have items that are dearer. In the final analysis, the cost factor depends on the personal preferences of their customers.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and his wife, Michal, learn how to make cheese from cheese maker Efrat Gabay.  (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO) PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and his wife, Michal, learn how to make cheese from cheese maker Efrat Gabay. (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

Some people will not buy overripe fruit, which is usually much cheaper than fruit that is only just ripe or not yet quite ripe. Some will buy frozen fish or meat because it is cheaper than fresh. That ice is included in the weight doesn’t seem to bother anyone, even though the price is according to weight. This is not a deterrent. But the products that Israelis are focused on this week are dairy products – cheeses, milk, cream, yogurt, butter, which have all risen in price in recent weeks.

Discount king Rami Levi, though a very wealthy man today, has not forgotten what it means to be poor. He is battling not just with his rivals but also with suppliers of dairy products, and has begun producing butter and cheeses under his own private label, and is selling them at prices much lower than those of established brands.

■ IT WASN’T a matter of “Say cheese” but of make cheese, as Government Press Office photographer Amos Ben Gershom captured for posterity images of cheese maker Efrat Gabay from Moshav Nahalal, as she showed President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, how cheese is made. The occasion was the traditional pre-Shavuot visit to the President’s Residence by representatives of the fruit and vegetable growers associations of Israel, and the Israel Dairy Board. As always, the farmers came with the best examples of their produce, brought their children and sang Shavuot songs together with the Herzogs.

The president was full of praise and admiration for the people who cultivate the land and preserve the agrarian heritage of the ancient Israelites. Among the farmers who came to Jerusalem were Meir Yifrach, chairman of the Vegetable Growers Organization, and Lior Simcha, the CEO of the Milk Producers Association. Also present were students from the Kfar Galim and Kfar Silver boarding schools.

■ HEARTWARMING JUST before Shavuot was the large number employees from the Trullion start-up company who responded to a call from Leket founder Joseph Gitler, and went out into the fields to harvest vegetables so as to feed the needy and ensure that they don’t go hungry during the festival. Ganit Dekel, head of Trullion’s human resources department, said that the employees were all very proud to be able to contribute to Israel’s social welfare and to help the less fortunate to celebrate Shavuot with food on the table.

■ DOES ANYONE have a spare kidney? It’s not a facetious question. Esther Roth-Shahamorov, Israel’s greatest female track athlete who competed in the 1970s, is in urgent need of a kidney transplant to save her life.

Roth-Shahamorov, who was hospitalized earlier this month, underwent a kidney transplant 15 years ago, but 15 years happens to be the life span of a transplanted kidney. At the time of going to press, a match had not yet been found.

Healthy people can live quite well with only one kidney. Many Israelis – both Jews and Arabs – have donated kidneys to save the life of someone they don’t know. It’s the ultimate form of coexistence, because there are Jews who have received Arabs’ kidneys and Arabs who have received Jews’ kidneys.

Even if the kidney you intend for Roth-Shahamorov is not a match, it could save the life of someone else. Potential donors are asked to contact her son, Yaron (, or the Save A Life NGO at (02) 500-0755.

■ CANADIAN AMBASSADOR Lisa Stadelbauer was among the guests at the launch by the Irani family of Israel’s first lululemon store, which includes an exercise studio. Best known for its Factory 54 chain in which it sells fashion bearing top Italian and other international brand names, the family has branched out to include the Canadian-American multinational athletic apparel retailer, which is headquartered in Vancouver, where it was founded in 1998. Also attending the festive launch in the Ramat Aviv Mall were Andre Maestrini, who heads lululemon’s international markets, and Sarah Clark, lululemon’s senior vice president for Europe. In addition to the cocktail reception, invitees, who included Ramat Aviv Mall owner Liora Ofer, were also treated to a performance by the Batsheva Dance group.

■ AWARD-WINNING veteran journalist Ruth Marks Eglash, who inter alia is a former reporter and arts and entertainment editor of The Jerusalem Post, has produced her debut novel, Parallel Lines, based on true stories she heard from people that she met and interviewed during the eight years in which she worked as the Jerusalem correspondent for The Washington Post, providing in-depth coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The stories that she collected inspired the creation of the three main characters of her book: Tamar, a secular Jew, Nour, a Palestinian Muslim, and Rivki, an ultra-Orthodox Jew. All three young women, who are approaching adulthood, live in Jerusalem less than a kilometer apart, but in a city of tribal culture and amid an intractable conflict. Under these circumstances, there is very little likelihood they will ever meet, let alone become friends. Yet one night their paths cross as the result of a terrorist attack on a light rail train in which passengers of the total demographic mosaic of Jerusalem are crowded together.

Circumstance plays a major role in shaping beliefs and prejudices. Eglash explores the devastating emotional and physical toll of war, ethnic conflict and religious codes, as well as the fears and hopes of the three young women.A mother of three, Eglash currently writes for a variety of media outlets, including Jewish Insider and Fox News Digital.

■ A SOMEWHAT different book, Betrayal: The Failure of American Jewish Leadership, compiled and edited by Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser, was launched this week at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.

Comprising 22 essays, the book analyzes and documents the failure of American Jewish leadership to effectively confront escalating antisemitism in the United States, expressed through the ideological and physical onslaught waged on Jewish communities and individuals across America, especially on university campuses where Jewish students are constantly under threat.

In addition to Jacobs and Goldwasser, contributors to thought-provoking essays include Alan Dershowitz, Mort Klein, Caroline Glick, Richard Landes, Jonathan Tobin and Thane Rosenbaum.

Jacobs and Landes each spoke at the launch, as did British-born journalist, author and public speaker Melanie Phillips, who lives in Jerusalem but frequently lectures abroad. Jacobs is a Boston-based human rights activist and pro-Israel lobbyist, and Landes is a historian and author affiliated with Boston University and Bar-Ilan University.

In castigating the American Jewish leadership, Jacobs singled out as an exception the Zionist Organization of America, headed by Klein, whom Jacobs lauded for his courageous leadership. This was somewhat unfair to World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, who for decades has stood up for the rights and dignity of the Jewish people, be it in the US or anywhere else in the world.

Jacobs also pointed to virulent antisemitism on the part of certain members of the black community, and showed video clips to prove his point.

Jews are being attacked from four ideological camps simultaneously, said Jacobs, citing another of the four. “Muslims attack Jews on American streets.”

It didn’t happen overnight, he said. It was built up over four decades. “Nearly every Jewish institution has security – many with armed guards.”

Jacobs also referred to subtle antisemitism in the media, and charged that Jewish leaders fail to realize the radicalization of America, believing that if they reach out to non-Jewish communities and organizations, everything will turn out well. “Classic liberalism has been defeated in key sectors of American society,” he stated, as he urged Jewish leaders to declare a state of emergency and mobilize their communities.

Phillips told of having been invited to speak to Hillel at Berkeley University in California. The event was subsequently canceled because they didn’t want someone talking about Israel on campus. So she spoke off campus and focused on Palestine under the British Mandate. Jewish students who came to hear her said that they had never heard about that before. If you are ignorant, you can easily fall victim to propaganda, said Phillips. “Many Jewish leaders parrot the lies of the enemies.”

According to Landes, Jews in America are experiencing the most violent period in Judaism since the Holocaust. He was critical of those Westerners “who think they can appease the enemy by doing nothing.” All three speakers spoke of the need for change in Jewish leadership and of the importance of taking the initiative in terms of action, rather than being on the defensive.

■ VERONA IS not only the place where Romeo and Juliet met, Italian Ambassador Sergio Barbanti told dozens of guests who were gathered in the spacious back garden of his residence in Ramat Gan last week. The occasion was a special concert in advance of the Arena of Verona Opera Festival, which runs from June 16 to September 9. The festival is this year celebrating its 100th anniversary, and will include a new production of Aida, which was specially conceived for a live, worldwide broadcast scheduled for June 16. There will also be a new production of Rigoletto.

The concert, designed to give Israelis a taste of what they can expect at the Arena of Verona Festival, was initially planned for March 30, which turned out to coincide with the day on which the country was paralyzed. Fearful that invitees would find their paths blocked by demonstrators in Tel Aviv and other parts of the country, the Israel-Italy Chamber of Commerce, which organized the event, sent out an apologetic cancellation notice.

But as things turned out, the concert was rescheduled, and Stefano Trespidi, the international relations director of the Arena Di Verona Foundation, together with soprano Monica Conesa, mezzo soprano Sofia Koberidze, tenor Matteo Mezzaro and pianist Federico Brunello were able to come to Israel this month.

Barbanti was particularly happy because events of this kind had to be suspended during COVID, and, like many Italians, he was glad to bring people together to celebrate music.

It never fails to amaze him, he said, that people can sit for more than an hour without moving or talking, and listen to music. The same goes for cinema.

Trespidi also mentioned that there’s more to Verona than Romeo and Juliet. Verona boasts the world’s best preserved Roman arena, which is more than 2,000 years old.

Audiences, including many Israelis, come to Verona during the opera season, and Israeli conductor Daniel Oren has never missed a season since 1984.

Aside from its age, the Verona Arena has the largest opera stage in the world – 44 m. by 25 m. There are 165 singers in the chorus and 100 musicians in the pit below the stage. In addition, there are 1,400 people employed for the many aspects of each production throughout the festival season.

The operas change nightly, so someone coming for a short visit of three or four nights can enjoy a multiple experience by seeing a different opera every night. Every year, over 500,000 people see productions of the popular operas in this arena, of whom 43% are Italian and 57% visitors from 118 countries, said Trespidi.

Singing arias from Rigoletto, Aida, Madame Butterfly, La Traviata and Carmen, the singers and the pianist received a loud cheer and sustained applause from the ambassador’s guests. The female guests were mostly attired in elegant cocktail and evening outfits, and came in dressy shoes, leaving their sneakers at home. Some of the men wore suits and ties, but most came casually dressed in open-necked shirts without jackets.

■ IT’S INTERESTING to remember that in its former incarnation as Beit Hatfutsot – the Museum of the Jewish People, the ANU Museum almost closed for lack of funds. In 2005 Russian oligarch Leonid Nevzlin came to the rescue at the request of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. Nevzlin was approached by Sharon and Natan Sharansky to see if he would help to prevent the closure. He agreed, as long as there was matching funding from the government. Since then, through his Nadav Foundation, Nevzlin has pumped millions of dollars into the museum and also served as chairman of its international board of governors – a position now held by his daughter Irina Nevzlin, who also chairs the Nadav Foundation. She is married to Likud member of Knesset Yuli Edelstein.

The ANU Museum is now in possession of the Codex Sassoon, which was recently purchased for $38.1 million.

However the purchase was not made with Nevzlin money. Former US diplomat Alfred Moses, a longtime supporter of the museum, has reportedly raised the money for the purchase. This is yet another feather in the cap of Tel Aviv University. The revamped and enlarged ANU Museum is located on the TAU campus.

■ A COMPELLING read in Haaretz last week was an essay by former Polish president Alexander Kwasniewski, which is written around the honors conferred by Tel Aviv University on two outstanding Polish women, Holocaust scholar Barbara Engelking and Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Olga Tokarczuk. What the two women have in common is a search for truth about relations between their fellow Poles and the Jews in their midst. Kwasniewski, who publicly apologized for the Jedwabne massacre, is also a truth seeker who sits on the supervisory board of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center and is a member of the Atlantic Council.

No country wants to wash its dirty linen in public, yet no country is sufficiently squeaky clean to live up to its assertions and aspirations about itself. If Israel were as moral a nation as its leaders claim it to be, the country’s prison cells would not be overcrowded. Kwasniewski is a little more generous of spirit in writing: “There are no criminal nations, only criminals of a given nationality.” Difficult as it is, he states, striving to learn the truth is necessary.

Looking back in history when Poland regained its national status after having been buffeted around as a minority as part of neighboring states, two distinguished Polish writers of opposite viewpoints approached Polish history in different ways. Henryk Sienkiewicz believed in creating a national mythology at the expense of historical truth in order to “uplift hearts.” Stefan Zeromski believed it was fundamental to recall the dark moments and despicable facts of Polish history, and that it was necessary for “national wounds to be scratched.” Engelking and Tokarczuk are in Zeromski’s camp. Sadly, Israel is more in line with Sienkiewicz.

■ CULTURE CAFÉ, a monthly lecture series, begins on Monday, May 29, at 10:30 a.m. at the former President Hotel, 3 Ahad Ha’am Street, Talbiyeh, Jerusalem. The premises have been made available for an indefinite period as a social space for cultural and other social activities. The series will start off with a lecture by architect Michaela Serby, who will speak on: “The Garden of Eden as a model for a global garden.” For further information call Hadas at 050-620-8981.

■ NOTWITHSTANDING THE emancipation of women and their access to education, top-notch careers and well-paid jobs, women continue to be victims of violence and sexual abuse. End Violence Against Women International is hosting a workshop in Chicago July 11-15, and another in Lome, Togo, July 18-22. One of its officers, Linda MacRae, has invited anyone who wants to attend to contact the secretary’s office at the EVAWI Center

( for information and registration.

The organizing committee and donor sponsors will take responsibility for all registered participants’ Visa processing, air tickets, accommodation, and a one-day free city tour in the US. The total number of participants will be limited, and registrations will be dealt with on the basis of first come, first served. As there are several organizations in Israel that are heavily involved in efforts to prevent violence against women, one or two of them could perhaps send a delegate.