Grapevine May 25, 2023: Georgia on my mind

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 ESTHER PANITCH with Prof. Yoram Weiss. (photo credit: DAVID HARRIS)
ESTHER PANITCH with Prof. Yoram Weiss.
(photo credit: DAVID HARRIS)

■ AS NATIONAL Day celebrations by heads of diplomatic missions go, the norm is a reception, with a speech by the ambassador and another by a minister representing the government. The speeches are followed by lavish refreshments. Sometimes there’s also a singing, musical or dance group from the ambassador’s home country, or there’s an art exhibition or a tourism promotion.

But nothing can compete with the amazing program hosted by Georgia’s ambassador Lasha Zhvania in honor of his country’s Independence Day. Talk about a hard act to follow, it’s unlikely that any other ambassador would undertake such an extensive and diverse production that included indoor and outdoor concerts, plus a series of exhibitions of traditional Georgian dancing.

Not for the first time was Georgia’s Independence Day celebrated in Jerusalem. On a previous occasion, Zhvania had hosted a somewhat smaller reception outside Jaffa Gate and David’s Citadel. At that time, COVID was raging, so the event had to be held outside with a minimal number of participants.

But once the COVID scare had been eliminated, Zhvania put together an event that in one sense was surpassed by the Americans who always have the president and prime minister of the state in attendance, but which in every other respect, was in a class of its own.

Usually, only one minister brings greetings on behalf of the government. Zhvania had two – David (Dudi) Amsalem, the second minister in the Justice Ministry at the beginning of the evening, and Transportation Minister Miri Regev, who was celebrating her 58th birthday, at the end. In addition, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai who had just returned from a visit to Georgia, where he was given the ultimate in hospitality, also came to convey greetings, and to mention cooperation in many spheres.

 PROFESSOR BERNARD FERINGA (left) and Professor Uri Sivan plant a tree together.  (credit: Rami Shelush/Technion Spokesman’s Office)
PROFESSOR BERNARD FERINGA (left) and Professor Uri Sivan plant a tree together. (credit: Rami Shelush/Technion Spokesman’s Office)

Amsalem, who has been to Georgia several times, had to leave early to go to the Knesset to vote for the budget. “If I don’t go to vote, I may not have anywhere to return,” he quipped. Regev, who is scheduled to attend a conference in Georgia, came after the vote, and noted that Georgia had always encouraged the minorities in its population, including its Jews, to maintain their religious traditions and their culture.

The event was held at the West Jerusalem YMCA, which has always been an oasis and a symbol of peace and harmony among Christians, Jews and Muslims, regardless of external animosities. The Georgian flag flew from the masthead of the impressive building, and speeches were delivered in Georgian, English and Hebrew without translation.

Zhvania, who is fluent in all three languages, spoke without notes or the help of a mobile phone, about the centuries-long history of Georgians in Jerusalem, and what Jerusalem means to Georgians. Although his embassy is not yet located in Jerusalem, Zhvania moved his residence to the capital some years ago.

Seated in the crowded auditorium of the Y, were ambassadors who earlier in the day, had attended a vin d’honneur reception at the King David Hotel across the road to welcome six new ambassadors to their ranks. Also in the audience were senior Christian Priests from the Georgian Orthodox Church, Orthodox Jews sporting beards and black velvet kippot, Muslims, including some from Ramallah, and many secular Georgians representing all three faiths.

In addition, said Zhvania, there were people from Armenia and Azerbaijan who had lived in Georgia, and of course many Israelis with whom Zhvania had connections in one way or another. The Batumi Camera Orchestra came from Adjara in Georgia to play favorite Georgian classical and folk melodies. They also accompanied six magnificent Georgian singers – two women and four men – who sang individually, in duets, and altogether and met with enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation.

Afterward, on two large outdoor stages, there were alternate performances by Georgian singers and Georgian dance and folklore groups whose gracefulness, fancy footwork, acrobatics, perfect synchronization and agility were a delight to behold.

Refreshments were served on the spacious lawns near the larger stage that had especially been erected for the dancing. On one side were tables laden with kosher food as a mark of respect to Jewish guests, and on the other food that was not kosher.

The performances also attracted passersby who eagerly came to look and to listen. Aside from Israel’s own Independence Day celebrations, this was definitely one of the most impressive and memorable Independence Day receptions held not only in Jerusalem, but in the whole of Israel.

Representatives from Georgia and Georgia meet in Jerusalem

■ FROM GEORGIA in the Caucasus to Georgia in Atlanta USA is quite a distance, but representatives of the two Georgias found common ground in Jerusalem. Esther Panitch, a Miami-born attorney, and a Democrat, is the only Jewish member of the Georgia House of Representatives and one of the leaders of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

Panitch visited Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem this week, and met with HMO Director Prof. Yoram Weiss, with whom she toured the hospital and was briefed on its latest technologies and research, as well as other developments including stem cell research and therapies for which Hadassah is recognized as a world leader.

Nobel Prize laureate visits Israel

■ NOBEL PRIZE laureate in Chemistry, Professor Bernard Lucas Feringa, came to Israel to give a lecture at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, as part of the Apeloig Distinguished Visiting Lectureship Series. Feringa was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2016 together with Prof. Jean-Pierre Sauvage and Sir J. Fraser Stoddart for their work on the design and synthesis of molecular machines. Stoddart visited the Technion and gave the Apeloig Lecture in 2018.

Molecular machines exist naturally, and play an important role in our bodies. Figuring out how they work, and following nature’s examples to design and synthesize such molecules, is a field which Profs. Feringa, Sauvage, and Stoddart pioneered.

One of the significant aspects of visits to Israel by dignitaries in different fields, is the planting of a tree, which symbolizes the creation of something for posterity, even though the planter may never enjoy the shade of the tree that he or she has planted. Feringa was no exception to this custom, and together with Technion President Professor Uri Sivan, he planted a tree in the Technion’s Nobel Trail in Lokey Park, where more than 20 trees have already been planted by visiting Nobel Laureates.

Feringa signed a plaque on the Nobel Laureates’ Wall of Fame in the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry and gave a lecture to a hall full of attentive students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty members; and had lunch with eleven PhD students.

“Fundamental science should not be neglected,” he said. “It is this kind of research that has the potential to lead to applications that change the way we live. Consider the smartphone, and the effect it has had. It was made possible by fundamental research into transistors and liquid crystal materials.”

Financial donation to Beilinson Hospital

■ THE REFRAIN in the song Ain’t we got fun, which was first performed more than a century ago, goes: “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer – in the meantime, in-between time, ain’t we got fun?” With the continued spiral in the cost of living, the song is as appropriate today, as it was in 1920. The difference is a greater sense of philanthropy among the rich, and the increase in the number of worthwhile causes that they support.

A case in point is Beilinson Hospital, which has received a US$34 million donation, from California philanthropists Drs Susan and Henry Samueli to fund integrative cancer research. Dr. Henry Samueli, the co-founder of Broadcom and Chairman of the Board, made a $25 million donation to establish the Samueli Integrative Cancer Pioneering Institute. An additional $9 million was donated by Clalit Health Services, Israel’s largest healthcare provider caring for five million patients.

With their vision to transform current healthcare practices into whole-person care models, the Samuelis were attracted to the hospital’s inclusive approach toward whole-person cancer care and world-class clinical services, research and innovation focused on the full-patient journey, incorporated with the global-level comprehensive databases of Clalit Health Services.

The multi-disciplined institute will develop new cutting-edge technologies which hopefully, will help cancer patients not only in Israel, but around the world.

 “The Institute is keen to form partnerships and collaborations with the global cancer community, including academia, health organizations, industry and foundations – to transform cancer care and create a new future for cancer patients,” said Beilinson Hospital CEO Dr. Eytan Wirtheim.

A tribute to Yonatan Gefen

■ IT’S HARD to imagine that Aviv Gefen will not be participating in a tribute to his father, the multi-talented Yehonatan Gefen, who died last month. But the younger Gefen’s name does not appear on the list of friends and performers who will be on stage at the Habima National Theater on Friday, June 2, at 11 a.m. to musically and dramatically pay their respects to the man who entered the hearts and minds of so many people as a poet, playwright, author, songwriter and performer. Among the well-known figures from his own generation who will perform, are Mickey Gavrielov, Hanan Yovel, Dori Ben Z’e’ev, Miri Aloni and Danny Litani.

At Shuni Amphitheater on June 9, Yoni Rechter will also pay tribute to Yonatan Gefen, and will include several of their joint works including the famous The Sixteenth Lamb in his repertoire.