24 years of Turkish culture

Tel Aviv puts a time limit on a gloriously restored building, fashion in the port and a Japanese doll ceremony.

IN TEL Aviv, there seems to be a greater deference to history than in Jerusalem, but that may be because Jerusalem as an ancient city, with numerous mentions in the Bible, can afford to be blasé. A case in point: The Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Council, at the request of the Turkish Embassy, has made a property in Jaffa available for the establishment of a Turkish Cultural Center. The Embassy has taken out a 24 year lease on the property, with an option for renewal. Explaining the strange time factor, a member of the Turkish Embassy said that there was a regulation whereby a lessee holding a lease for 25 years or more could automatically become the owner of the property. To prevent this, he said, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality would not sign a lease for a period exceeding 24 years. The property, known as the Saraya Building, was built in the 1890s to replace an old government structure. During the Mandate period, the building was used as an orphanage and was subsequently destroyed in a bomb attack by Jewish extremists. The restoration is a joint Turkish-Israeli venture. The Israeli architects were Eyal Ziv and Rali Parto, who specialize in restoration of Ottoman buildings and who worked in close cooperation with Turkish architects and decorators who restored the Topkapi Palace and the Dolmabahce Palace. The restoration of the building, which according to Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan, was a complete mess, cost some $2 million. Although the project is not quite completed, Tan took advantage of the presence in Israel of internationally acclaimed historian Bernard Lewis to host the Embassy's annual dinner in Lewis' honor in the as yet unlaunched Turkish Cultural Center complex, adjacent to the famous Jaffa clock tower. The official opening, said Tan, will take place in conjunction with the visit of a top ranking Turkish dignitary such as the president or the prime minister. This was welcome news in view of the recent rupture in relations between Turkey and Israel. Tan says that the rupture is purely political and that relations on all other levels, particularly military and economic, have not been affected, with the exception of tourism, although Turkish tour operators and hotels are knocking themselves out with phenomenal deals designed to woo back the Israeli traveler. Several Israel trade union groups which vacation annually in Turkey cancelled their reservations. Tan is confident that this is a temporary glitch in relations and that everything will return to what it was in better times. "It's not the first time it's happened," he said. Entering the cultural center is like walking back in time, notwithstanding the modern conveniences like flat television screens and air conditioning systems. There is an air of understated opulence with the velvet upholstered long Ottoman couches, the exquisitely carved chairs with well padded velvet upholstery, the large square glass showcases, box-framed in crushed velvet, the elegant chandeliers, and of course the magnificent architecture with high vaulted ceilings and arched entranceways. Among the guests were US Ambassador James Cunningham and his wife Leslie, Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda and his wife Nahla, British Ambassador Tom Phillips, Yossi Gal of the Israel Foreign Ministry, retired diplomat Uri Lubrani and his wife Sara, former Israel Ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovich and his wife Efrat and Russian Ambassador Piotr Stegny, who was previously ambassador to Turkey and who came bearing a huge bouquet of flowers for Tan's wife. Nahla Reda, who is learning Hebrew, impressed Rabinovich with her pronunciation and he gave her an impromptu lesson comparing the similarities in Hebrew words for facial features to those in Arabic. Lewis, who will be 93 at the end of May, and who Tan refers to as a living legend, stood on his feet for quite a while during the reception prior to the dinner and betrayed no sign of fatigue. As a student of the Ottoman period, he said, he particularly appreciated the venue, and as an historian he was more inclined to look backwards than forwards. He recalled that after studying Turkish from a wonderful teacher in Paris, he had paid his first visit to Turkey in 1938, after having first spent time in Syria. It was that first visit which colored his attitude ever since and which gave him an appreciation of how much the Turks had accomplished in the preservation of their country. As an historian, he was particularly appreciative of the amount of available archive material recording 400 years of Ottoman rule that exists in Israel. Much of the Otttoman archives were preserved and are priceless, he said.
  • THE HEBREW media tends to take a mocking stance at the solicitous attitude which Prime Minister designate Binyamin Netanyahu takes toward his wife Sara. In fact, last Friday Yediot Aharonot ran a full page story in its broadsheet section headlined: "Boi Sarale, hozrim." Roughly translated, the meaning is "Come on Sarale, we're going back." This not only signifies a return to office after a decade-long hiatus, but also a return to the official residence of the Prime Minister, which Netanyahu has admitted is not at all suitable for its purpose. But then again, neither is his private residence, a five-minute walk away.
  • YEDIOT ALSO ran an interview on Friday with Aliza Olmert, who was reticent in her response to most questions, with the notable exception of how she felt about leaving what she kept referring to as Number 3 Balfour, when it is in fact Number 9 Smolenskin. She never liked the place to start with, she said, so she wouldn't be sorry to be leaving. The Olmerts have purchased a property in Motza on the outskirts of Jerusalem and are waiting for the renovations to be completed. If Netanyahu is fortunate and able to form a government in a relatively short period of time, the Olmerts may have to move temporarily to their property in Tel Aviv's Sheinkin Street; if coalition-building takes longer, they may be able to go straight from Jerusalem to Motza.
  • THE FIRST prime minister to occupy the official residence was Yitzhak Rabin, whose wife Leah absolutely refused to live in the nearby house vacated by Golda Meir because it was in such a state of disrepair. It would have cost more than the State was prepared to pay to improve the premises, so the Rabins moved into the house previously occupied by the foreign minister. Just as Netanyahu and his family will soon do, the Rabins also returned to the house at 9 Smolenskin for a second stint, but the gap between the Rabins' two sojourns there was a few years' wider than that of the Netanyahus.
  • APROPOS RABIN, his private residence in Harav Ashi Street in Neve Avivim, an upscale suburb of Tel Aviv, was sold a year ago to lawyer Adi Levit, who acquired it as a 50th birthday present to himself. Before Levit began renovations, Rabin's study was moved lock, stock and barrel to the Yitzhak Rabin Center. Anyone entering the penthouse apartment which had been home to Yitzhak and Leah Rabin would not recognize it. The same could be said of the Jerusalem penthouse apartment that Golda Meir lived in when she was minister of labor. The apartment later belonged to the late Georgie Arazi, who for almost 30 years was letters editor of The Jerusalem Post. Arazi, who lived in the apartment for many years, made some alterations to it before she sold it some 16-17 years ago to Yael Amishav, who made far greater alterations before she in turn sold it a year or so ago. The free-standing house that Golda had lived in as prime minister fell into total neglect, and was broken into by homeless people, drug addicts and alcoholics for whom it became a haven until the authorities eventually took steps to get rid of them. The premises were subsequently assigned to Miriam Eshkol for the purpose of building a museum and archive in memory of her late husband prime minister Levi Eshkol, but so far she has been unable to raise sufficient funds to complete the project, which unfairly leaves Eshkol historically marginalized, even though streets in most Israeli cities are named for him.
  • ON THE eve of his two propitious meetings with President Shimon Peres, Netanyahu was already busy making nice with the Americans. He and his wife joined Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) and his wife Teresa for dinner at the new Scala-Chef Kitchen and Bar at the David Citadel Hotel. Also partaking of the dinner and the company were US Ambassador Cunningham and his wife Leslie.
  • NEWLY INSTALLED Kadima MK and and Bar-Ilan University doctoral student Nachman Shai will deliver the keynote address on "Israel After the Elections" at a special Ambassadors' Forum to be held today, Wednesday at BIU. More than 60 ambassadors and senior diplomats are expected to attend the Forum, the first in a series, entitled "The 2009 Knesset Elections: Political and International Implications."
  • WIZO MEMBERS and supporters from all over Israel showed up at Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv Port this week for the gala WIZO tribute to 100 years of Tel Aviv Fashion in honor of the Tel Aviv Centenary Year. The event, emceed by fashion designer, singer, actor and man-about-town Yuval Caspin and actress and fashion maven Gilat Ankori featured creations by designers Yaron Minkowski, Bari Mayer - a fourth generation Tel Avivian, Sasson Kedem, Ofir Dahan, Galit Levi, Raziela Gershon, Haya Nir, Maya Negri, Dorin Frankfurt, Gershon Bram and students of the WIZO Academy of Fashion Design in Haifa. In addition there was a parade of WIZO Vintage, culled from WIZO's second hand clothing stores - and it fitted in just fine with some of the other eclectic fashions on the runway. Raya Jaglom, Honorary Life President of World WIZO, recalled that when she was young and it was difficult to find exclusive fabrics in Tel Aviv, she and fashion doyenne Lola Beer would tour the fabric stores looking for good quality curtain fabric from which Beer fashioned eye catching outfits for Jaglom. Models in the show were mostly non-professionals who are well known in Israel society. The line-up included Etti Levy, Rachel Turjeman, Gili Saar, Karen Gillerman-Harel, Evelyn Hagoel, Galit Giat, Mayan Karet, Kochi Mordechai and Shira Farber, who were trained by Smadar Ganzi to do a truly remarkable job. Four huge video screens flashed faded and sharp focus scenes of Tel Aviv, including fashion shows from bygone years and street scenes of what women were wearing when. Among those in the audience were Karen's parents, former ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman and his wife Janice. Dan's mother was among the founders of WIZO, and Janice has worked for WIZO Tel Aviv for 40 years. Among the entertainers who came on to give the models a chance to change from one outfit into another were Sharon Haziz, Emily Karpel and Pablo Rosenberg. Everyone associated with the event, which was a fundraiser for women and children at risk, gave their services gratis.
  • GUESTS WHO came to the home of Japanese Ambassador Haruhisa Takeuichi in response to an invitation from his wife Nobuko to a ladies' luncheon were somewhat surprised to find the ambassador at home; generally speaking, when there are men at such affairs in the international community, they're usually waiters. However the ambassador, who is well aware that his soft-spoken wife sometimes has difficulty in making herself heard, was there to act as her living microphone. The luncheon was primarily a gesture of reciprocity in appreciation of the warm hospitality that Nobuko Yakeuchi has experienced since her arrival in Israel a few months ago. It was also an opportunity, through a beautiful display of dolls, to acquaint her new friends with Hina Matsuri, the Japanese doll festival or girls' festival, when families pray for the happiness and healthy growth of girls. Those with young daughters set up a doll display inside the house and offer rice crackers and other food to the dolls which are attired in the costumes of the imperial court during the Helan period (794-1192). The dolls are placed on a tiered platform covered in red felt. The top tier is reserved for the emperor and the empress, with a miniature gilded folding screen behind them, just as in the ancient imperial court. The custom of displaying these dolls on the third day of the third month of the Japanese calendar began some 400 years ago as a means of warding off evil spirits, with the dolls acting as a talisman. Even today, some Japanese release paper dolls into rivers after the festival, praying that they remove sickness and ill fortune as they float away. After the festival, the dolls that have been on display are speedily returned to the closet, due to a superstition that families who delay in doing so will have trouble marrying off their daughters.
  • THE NOSTALGIA in the Neudorfer Auditorium of the Open University in Raanana was almost tangible when prize winning Irish author Marilyn Taylor, who was in Israel for the Jerusalem International Book Fair, met with members and friends of the Israel Ireland Friendship League to whom she presented "An Author's Perspective of Jewish Ireland." Taylor is known for her historical novels with Jewish themes, and much of what she had to say about Dublin was familiar to Irish expats who were once her fellow countrymen and women. She came to Israel with her husband Mervyn Taylor, who has his own place in Irish Jewish history, in that he is the first Jew to hold a cabinet position in the Republic of Ireland. He is a former minister of equality and law reform. Marilyn Taylor came armed with her two latest books, "Faraway Home" and "17 Martin Street." Irish Ambassador Michael Forbes, who makes a point of attending IIFL events, had a special interest in this one as he wanted to see Irish TG4 TV Channel's documentary "Banks of the Liffey," that incorporated rare vintage footage of Dublin Jewish Communal Life of the 1940s 1950s and 1960s. Also on hand was Open University President Prof. Hagit Messer, who has hosted the IIFL on previous occasions. Moderator was IIFL Chairman Malcolm Gafson, whose delightful brogue and gregarious personality make him a perfect subject for a writer of books. Gafson, who is a great fan of Taylor's, complimented her on her contribution to Irish literature and was particularly enamored with "Jewish Dublin - Portraits of Life on the Liffey," which she edited.
  • ISRAEL'S FIFTH President Yitzhak Navon was an educator before he became an aide to David Ben-Gurion, and after completing his term as president, returned to both politics and education and accepted the position of education minister. Navon is a committed advocate for the Hebrew language and laments the number of foreign words that have penetrated spoken and written Hebrew to the extent that they have become accepted terminology. Examples cited frustratedly by Navon recently on the Israel Radio program "A Moment of Hebrew" included "agenda," "trend," "location" and "spin" - all of which, he noted, have legitimate Hebrew equivalents.