Changing situations tend to bring people’s hidden potential to the fore. Since the beginning of Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, the wife of the president of Ukraine, has engaged in trauma diplomacy, traveling the world and meeting with international leaders and their wives to state Ukraine’s case, to ask for more humanitarian aid and to learn how traumas in adults and children are dealt with in different countries, in order to determine what is suitable for Ukraine.
This week she arrived in Israel, having previously met President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, in London at the coronation of King Charles.
After breakfast with the Herzogs on Monday, Zelenska, escorted by Michal Herzog, visited the Mordechai Shani Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine Center at Sheba Medical Center. They also visited the hospital’s virtual reality department. During their tour of Sheba, they met with physicians, therapists, psychologists and patients and members of patients’ families.
Emphasizing that Ukraine’s healthcare system cannot cope alone, Zelenska spoke of the need for future cooperation between Israeli and Ukrainian experts in dealing with both the physical and mental effects of trauma. Michal Herzog assured her that Israel is always willing to share its know-how. Zelenska received the same assurances throughout her tour.
During the day, Zelenska and Herzog also met with leading figures from the Israel Trauma Coalition and attended a conference at NATAL, the Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center.
Zelenska was full of admiration for Israel’s resilience in the face of constant attacks from Gaza.
■ IF NOTHING else, the Australian Labor Party can boast of being evenhanded. It was in power when its representative to the United Nations Dr. Herbert Evatt cast the first “yes” vote for the partition of Palestine. Evatt worked openly and behind the scenes to ensure a majority vote for partition, which was followed six months later by David Ben-Gurion’s proclamation of the birth of the State of Israel. It has taken 75 years for the Australian Labor Party to focus on recognition of the state of Palestine. Regardless of which Australian political party was in power, the Palestinians have long had a representative in Canberra, so it was just a matter of time for recognition of a Palestinian state to be declared. Diplomacy may be a better option than terrorism for the Palestinians to finally attain a sovereign state – albeit territorially not as large as they would like, while Israel would hopefully be terror-free.
■ ALMOST 28 years after the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, many questions still remain unanswered. Toward the end of last year, Ran Sharir and Avi Zelinger published their book Ha’ish Shetza’ak Srak Srak (Blank Blank), which to a large extent focuses on the role of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) operator Avishai Raviv. Until May of this year, Raviv, who had a fairly close relationship with assassin Yigal Amir, remained tight-lipped about the whole affair. But after what he claimed to be distortions by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, he felt that he could remain silent no longer, and opened up on the Uvda (Fact) investigative journalism program to talk about how he, the son of a staunch Labor family from Holon, joined Kach, after listening to a very Zionist-sounding speech by charismatic Kach leader Meir Kahane. He also spoke of how he was recruited by the Shin Bet, who recognized that despite being a member of an extremist organization, he was a true patriot and would act in the interests of the state. One of the things he said in the interview was that when he heard talk of killing Rabin, he informed his handlers, but has no idea as to whether they passed it on.
■ THE NATIONAL day of Portugal was the first to be hosted in Israel by Portugal’s new ambassador, Luis Barros, at his residence in Kfar Shmaryahu.
Representing the government was Ofir Akunis, minister of innovation, science and technology, whose presence provoked a demonstration by people who believe that some of the policies of the government are a threat to democracy. The ambassador, to his credit, remained cool and unflustered, though he never expected his first national day reception in Israel to be so cruelly disrupted.
One of the demonstrators, wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Diplomat for Democracy,” got too close for comfort to Barros and Akunis, and was pounced on by someone from the minister’s security detail and escorted outside. Some people commented that even though the man was disruptive, the residence is sovereign Portuguese territory , and the Israeli security man had no right to evict anyone from there. The demonstrator later returned but did not disturb the proceedings.
Akunis, as the target of the demonstration, was most unhappy about it, but managed, however, to make light of the incident, saying that at least it proves that there is democracy in Israel.
■ PHILIPPINES AMBASSADOR Pedro “Junie” Laylo and his wife, Carijane, fared somewhat better, though two important government representatives who were supposed to attend bowed out at the last minute due to other urgent business. Economy Minister Nir Barkat was scheduled to represent the government, and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who recently returned from a most productive visit to the Philippines, simply wanted to be at the reception to express his appreciation for the strengthening of ties. That they didn’t come may have been the reason that there was no demonstration outside the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv.
This was a particularly important reception for several reasons. Firstly, it was in honor of the 125th anniversary of Philippine independence. Secondly, it was Laylo’s first hosting of an Independence Day reception. Thirdly, it was a challenge for a first-time ambassador. Laylo is a political scientist by profession, best known as a pollster. He was appointed last July by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and presented his credentials to President Herzog in January of this year.
Both exuberant personalities, Laylo and his wife, who is a social scientist, hosted an event that was decidedly different from the average Independence Day event hosted by their colleagues. In the upstairs lobby, there was a reception line of Filipino officials from the embassy, and there were dancers performing traditional Filipino dances. Downstairs, in the small foyer leading to the ballroom, the Laylos enthusiastically greeted their guests and posed for photographs with each. The ambassador happens to be a keen amateur photographer, and is therefore happy to have anything to do with photography, whether photographing or being photographed.
In the ballroom, prior to the formalities, Filipino children in national dress were happily indulging in Tinikling, the national dance of the Philippines in which two bamboo poles are placed on the ground and are slid backward and forward while dancers maneuver between them while trying to avoid being struck on the ankle.
A member of the embassy kept encouraging guests to join, but only those from Asian countries dared.
During the formalities, Laylo noted that the relationship between the Philippines and Israel extends beyond the establishment of the state. He spoke of the open-door policy of President Manuel L. Quezon, who could not believe that almost every country that Jews fleeing from the Nazis had tried to enter had refused them. He not only welcomed them but provided for 1,300 German Jews.
Laylo was particularly glad to be hosting a reception in Israel for his country’s milestone anniversary. Eight years ago, he and his wife visited Israel as tourists and were so impressed that they said that one day they would return. At that time, it never occurred to them in what capacity that would happen.
He was proud of the fact that in 1947 the Philippines had been among those countries that voted in favor of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, which led to the establishment of the State of Israel.
Referring to the close relationship between Israel and the Philippines, he said that there are 20,000 Filipino caregivers in Israel, many of whom call their employers Ima or Saba. In addition, there are 2,000 Filipinos working in Israeli hotels.
During the pandemic, there was a sharp drop in tourism and trade, which is now picking up and aided by the fact that Israel has opened a trade office in Manila. For Israel, he said, the Philippines provides an opportunity to expand its footprint in Southeast Asia.
He also mentioned Cohen’s visit to the Philippines.
Although they were not there in person, President Marcos, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cohen sent videotaped messages that were screened at the event.
Representing the government in lieu of Barkat and Cohen were Gil Haskel, the chief of State Protocol, and Rafael Harpaz, a former ambassador to the Philippines and currently the deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Ministry.
Haskel noted that the Philippines was the only country in Asia that immediately recognized Israel after statehood. Israel will always remember that the Philippines was the only Asian country that in 1947 voted for the partition of Palestine, he said.
As a former head of Mashav, Haskel said that he personally had a lot to do with Filipinos because Israel is committed to the development of the Philippines.
In a subsequent gathering at Hayarkon Park, hundreds of members of the Filipino community joined the ambassador and embassy staff in an authentic Filipino celebration replete with Filipino folk dances, Filipino cuisine and Filipino entertainment.
Introducing new diplomats
■ WHILE SEVERAL new ambassadors have this year presented their letters of credence to President Herzog, many others have completed their postings to Israel and will be part of the diplomatic exodus during the summer. Among them is Finland’s Ambassador Kirsikka Lehto-Asikainen, who, with her husband, Riku Asikainen, hosted a midsummer concert and farewell reception at her residence this week, slightly in advance of the completion of her term in August.
The event was attended by several diplomats, members of the Finnish community, and friends from Women Wage Peace.
The ambassador said that on this occasion she would not talk about Finland’s foreign policy, NATO or Ukraine, because it was an evening of music and culture.
The musical trio included Laura Mikkola, a famous Finnish pianist who now lives in Paris, and who specially came to Israel for the occasion; Elina Yanovitsky, a lead violinist with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra; and Kirill Mihanovsky, a cellist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. They each played solos and came together for a final recital of Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio for piano, violin and cello. The three had never played together before and had a brief rehearsal in the afternoon prior to the recital. Judging by the applause, they acquitted themselves extremely well.
Members of the embassy staff expressed their appreciation for the ambassador’s leadership and professionalism and presented her with a book highlighting her time in Israel. The cover features a photograph of Lehto-Asikainen with president Reuven Rivlin on the day that she presented her credentials in May 2019.
She will be returning to Helsinki, where she will remain for the next couple of years with her family, but chances are high that she will return to Israel on vacation or possibly in another Foreign Ministry role related to the Middle East.
■ IN OCTOBER of this year, Israel will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. As is always the case in wartime, Israel’s leading singers were recruited to entertain the troops. Among them was Yehoram Gaon, who at age 83 is still going strong. During the war, Gaon was photographed with the Engineering Corps. Now, according to an article in Yediot Aharonot, the veterans who were in that photograph would like to reconstruct it by way of a reunion and a celebration of their own survival. It goes without saying that Gaon, who sang to the troops every night during the war, is no less ready to meet with them again. Some have lost contact with each other, and some have died or are no longer living in Israel.
To date, a group of Yom Kippur War veterans is planning a special conference that will be held close to the actual anniversary, and as more information is made public, the hope is that other veterans will get in touch and attend.
■ IN ADVANCE of Hebrew Book Week, President Herzog and his wife were last week visited by veteran publisher and editor Israel Carmel, 85, of Carmel Publishing, who has spent the major p[art of his life in the publishing business. Knowing that the Herzogs are avid readers, Carmel arrived carrying several books for their perusal.
Among the books published by his publishing company is Dimona by Dr. Dan Sagir, a research fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations.
Sagir questions how Israel’s opaque nuclear deterrence works, and whether Dimona has affected the decision-making processes of Arab state leaders over the years. He delves into the degree that the abatement of the Mideast inter-state conflict is related to Israel’s nuclear capabilities and what Israel’s deterrence strategy will be in the face of a nuclear Iran.
Honoring Israeli LGBTQ+ community leaders
■ IT WAS fitting for television personality, actor and director Tzedi Tzarfati, 82, to be honored at a tribute by Habimah last week during gay pride month. One of the veterans of Tel Aviv’s LGBT community, Tzarfati served in an entertainment unit in the army, where he suffered constant interrogation by his superiors who suspected that he was gay. In those days, homosexuality was completely unacceptable, and for a considerable time Tzarfati was a closet queen. His career in show business took off when he was still a child. He began acting professionally at the age of 10. He came out of the closet when he began working as a director, saying that he wanted to be himself. Initially, it cost him dearly.
Among the television and stage productions that he directed was the long-running Bustan Sephardi (A Spanish Orchard), which ran for more than 2,300 performances, and was written by Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon. At the tribute Tzarfati was presented with the Yitzhak Navon Award by the late president’s son, Erez Navon.
■ TOLERANCE IS the wrong word to use by people who have no problem in accepting members of the LGBT community into the various realms of mainstream society. Tolerance means putting up with something that one doesn’t like. Accepting the other regardless of sexual orientation, gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality or political affiliation is not synonymous with tolerance.
Both straights and gays were among the performers at the crowded central gay pride party in the Ramat Gan Stock Exchange complex. The event was held in an atmosphere of total acceptance of the other. Most of the people in the crowd, including Mayor Carmel Shama Hacohen, were thrilled to be present at live performances by Sarit Hadad, who was performing for the first time at a gay pride event, after outing herself; Static; Harel Skaat; and Shahar Tavoch. Moderator was Olympic judoka Yarden Jerbi, who came out of the closet a year ago. The gay pride festival was held in tandem with Ramat Gan’s centenary celebrations.
Shama Hacohen made the point that Ramat Gan is for everyone, and that everyone who is a resident of the city is for Ramat Gan. Any city that doesn’t understand that people should be free to love whoever they want, whenever they want, however they want, is not progressive, he said. “We in Ramat Gan respect everyone’s right to be whoever and whatever they are.”
■ ONE OF the benefits of the growing trend toward cultural weekends in hotels is that in addition to the food and the amenities, one can get up really close to popular entertainers, scintillating orators, famous writers, and more. At the Ruth Hotel in Safed, which is part of the Dan chain, general manager Shimon Kipnis was pleased with guest reactions to Guri Alfi and Ninet Tayeb, who did more than perform.. The two conducted an intimate albeit public conversation about music, comedy, their respective careers, and how despite the topsy-turvy world of entertainment, they manage their lives and provide stability for their families.
■ THE DECISION by Russia to open a branch office in Jerusalem of its embassy in Tel Aviv, is not exactly a surprise. For one thing, Russia needs to divert attention from its war with Ukraine, especially because there are so many immigrants from both countries living in Israel. But the probability of a permanent presence in Jerusalem surfaced long before.
Almost immediately after his arrival in Israel in June, 2018, a year after Russia recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Russian ambassador Anatoly Viktorov, even before presenting his credentials in July to President Reuven Rivlin, hosted a combined event at Sergei’s Courtyard in Jerusalem that was attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara. The reception in honor of Russia’s National Day, also marked the official opening of the Sergei Palace Hotel, which was originally built in 1890 to house Russian pilgrims visiting the Holy City. The premises have been modernized, but still include a chapel and a room of historic photographs.
For many years there was an ownership dispute between Israel and Russia over which of the two had title to the property. Eventually, the matter was settled and ownership was restored to Russia, with the transfer facilitated by Netanyahu. Russia owns or claims to own numerous properties in Jerusalem
Back in June, 2018, Netanyahu predicted that many more Russia Days would be celebrated in Jerusalem – and now with the establishment of a branch office of the Russian Embassy in the capital, it looks as if that prediction will bear fruit.
Russia Day is officially celebrated on June 12. It came into being in June, 1992, six months after Russia regained its independence.
The focal point at this year’s Russia Day reception in Israel, was a photographic exhibition showing some of the historic events in Russia-Israel relations.
While Russia’s diplomatic presence in Jerusalem was hailed in many quarters despite criticism of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the Russian Embassy in Australia faced a severe setback with the cancellation of a lease to build a new embassy in Canberra. According to a Reuters report Australia has said that it will introduce legislation to parliament to cancel Russia’s lease to build a new embassy in the national capital of Canberra, citing national security.
The move follows the conclusion of a long-running litigation regarding the leased site after the federal court ruled last month that an eviction order made by the National Capital Authority - a government body tasked with the planning of the national capital - was invalid.
One has to wonder whether such action down under is a new form of sanctions that may be adopted in other parts of the world with regard to other agreements between Russia and the host countries of its embassies and consulates.
■ LOVERS OF classical music, and fans of conductor Anita Kamien can enjoy a wonderful summer festival of music performed by members of the Musicology Department of the Hebrew University.
The concert will begin at 6.30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 27, on the third floor of the Humanities Building on the Mount Scopus campus.
There will be a Gamelan Orchestra at 6:30 pm, a Brass Quintet at 7:15 pm, and at 7:30, the University Choir will sing. These presentations will be on the third floor near the Musicology wing.
Music lovers who prefer orchestral music to choral music , have the choice of going upstairs to Auditorium (Ulam) 300 where Kamien will be conducting the Hebrew University Orchestra which will play works by Mendelssohn, Bach, Vivaldi and Ewald featuring student soloists and the beloved “Unfinished Symphony” by Schubert, concluding with Rossini’s exciting Overture to The Barber of Seville. Entrance is free of charge, but registration is requested by writing to HebrewUOrchestra@gmail.com
■ THE CHABAD women’s event marking the 29th anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that is scheduled for this evening, Wednesday, June 21, has undergone a change of venue and will now be held at the Mishkenot Sha’\ananiim Cultural and Conference Center, just below the Montefiore restaurant at 8 p.m. Although women are never amongst the speakers at an event organized for and by Orthodox Jewish males, Rabbis often speak at events geared entirely to women. On this occasion it will be an all women’s event in terms of both speakers and entertainment.
■ BAR-ILAN University’s Prof. Sarit Kraus, of the Department of Computer Science, is the winner of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) 2023 Award for Research Excellence.
This award is given to a scientist who has carried out a program of research of consistent high quality throughout an entire career yielding several substantial results. Prof. Kraus was recognized for her pioneering work of the study of interactions among self-interested agents, creating the field of automated negotiation, and developing methods for coalition formation and teamwork, both as formal models and real-world implementations.
Her research focuses on intelligent agents and multi-agent systems, and understanding how intelligent agents that can interact proficiently with people can best be created. Her research studies build on methods and algorithms from Machine Learning, Decision Theory and Game Theory, non-classical logic, optimization under uncertainty and psychology.
Prof. Kraus’ application domains have included physical security, intelligent cars, human training, recommendation systems, automated negotiations and mediation, virtual humans and rehabilitation.
■ AMONG THE more reliable kashrut certifications is that of the OU – the Orthodox Union, which is arguably the world’s largest certifier of kosher products. Writing in Torah Tidbits, Rabbi Avi Berman, the Executive Director of OU Israel, wrote: “With 1.4 million certified products OU continues to meet our evolving kashrut needs on a global scale.”