Grapevine: A Nobel common denominator

Polish Embassy, Begin Center memorialize Kaczynski, Israel Museum’s Snyder decorated by France and ‘A Star Is Born’ coming to Jerusalem

Lech Kaczynski 311 (photo credit: AP)
Lech Kaczynski 311
(photo credit: AP)
AT THE Limmud FSU Conference in Moscow last week, the theme was Jewish Nobel Prize laureates. On hand to address the young Russian Jews were relatives and close friends and associates of some of the famous people whose lives were being discussed, among them Yoram Dori, Eitan Haber and Herzl Makov. Dori has been an adviser to President Shimon Peres for more than 20 years. Haber was Yitzhak Rabin’s bureau chief and had also worked closely with him in the army. Makov is the director of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Also present were Tsvia Walden, who is Peres’s daughter, and Dalia Rabin, who is Rabin’s daughter.
Walden was supposed to have been joined in Moscow by her husband Prof. Raphael Walden, who had been with Peres in Paris with the intention of continuing to Moscow when Peres left Paris to return to Israel. Walden is the president’s personal physician as well as being his son-in-law and travels with him on most of the president’s trips abroad. Although Peres was able to leave Paris just ahead of the closure of Charles de Gaulle Airport, Walden was not so fortunate. He thought that if he couldn’t get a plane from Paris, he might be able to catch a flight in Marseilles. But the airport there was also closed. So he hired a car and went to Barcelona. But when he got there, he discovered that he couldn’t fly out of Barcelona either. By the time some flights were reinstated, there was no point in going to Moscow because the Limmud conference had already concluded.
At the conference, Makov presented a verbal portrait of Begin and spoke of the greatness of the man in his ability to take decisions that ran counter to his personal ideology, such as the withdrawal from Sinai, even though he believed in a greater Israel. When he had to make a choice between territory and the right of Israeli citizens to live in dignity, peace and freedom, he gave priority to the latter.
Dori spoke of Peres the nation builder, who had formulated Israel’s defense system and its military strength, founded Israel Aircraft Industries and initiated the development of a nuclear reactor in Dimona, while simultaneously striving for peace. Haber depicted Rabin as a man capable of taking difficult decisions and accepting full responsibility for the consequences, even when this worked against him.
Haber recalled that for all Rabin’s many virtues, a sense of humor was not among them. On one occasion, a state visit to Germany was planned and Haber was entrusted with preparing the usual gifts to be given to the German dignitaries. However, the visit was cancelled at the last minute and the prime minister’s delegation set off for another planned visit, this time to the US Sixth Fleet, taking the gifts along with them. At the close of the ceremony, Rabin asked Haber to produce the gifts and he duly handed over a package to the commander of the Sixth Fleet, adding that in Israel it was customary to open a gift when it was received. A book about Jerusalem was ceremoniously unwrapped and the dedication duly read out: “With the compliments of the prime minister of Israel to the honorable mayor of Frankfurt.”
In an aside to Haber, Rabin asked what had gone wrong. Haber replied, “We screwed up!” With great aplomb, the prime minister retorted “one of the advantages of being a prime minister is you can sack your senior staff.” Perhaps there was a sense of humor lurking somewhere. Otherwise Haber would have been out of that particular job sooner than he anticipated.
  • ALTHOUGH SHE was born on April 21, 1926, the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, is traditionally celebrated in Britain on the second Saturday of June each year with the Trooping of the Colors, which is the impressive parade in her honor by footguards and household cavalry, resplendent in their white belted red jackets, black trousers and black beefeater hats. In Israel, a succession of British ambassadors hosted the queen’s birthday reception on a weekday in June, simply because it’s not the done thing to host diplomatic receptions on Shabbat.
    This year, however, British Ambassador Tom Phillips is holding the queen’s birthday reception only a week after her real birthday, which is today, April 21. The reason may well be that the ambassador is winding up his term and does not want to leave a vacuum in June, prior to the arrival of his successor Matthew Gould. The question now is whether Phillips is in line for a knighthood. With the exception of his immediate predecessor Simon McDonald, all the British ambassadors who have served here over the past decade and a half have been knighted, so it’s not far-fetched to suppose that sooner or later Phillips will be addressed as Sir Tom.
  • CURRENTLY VISITING is World War II veteran Al Weber, 89, an American Jewish aviator who is the sole survivor of the B-24 crew that bombed the weapons factory at Auschwitz. Weber was invited to join members of the IAF who flew over Auschwitz in 2003. He went with his wife, was given a presentation signed by OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan and was made an honorary IAF pilot. Weber, who was last here 26 years ago, made a point of meeting up again with Nehushtan and other senior IAF officers. Weber spends a lot of his time telling his story to schoolchildren and impressing on them that history has a habit of repeating itself, and that the negative aspects of historic repetition can be prevented if people read the warning signs properly.
  • WHEN HE visited in September 2006, Polish president Lech Kaczynski, who together with his wife was buried in Krakow on Sunday, following their deaths a week earlier in a plane crash, he opened an exhibition at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center commemorating the crucial role played by Jews in Poland’s army up until and including the period of World War II. Kaczynski, without the use of notes, gave a long, interesting and detailed lecture on Polish Jewish military heroes, and also expressed pride in the fact that the Polish-born Begin was not only a member of the Polish army, but also a law graduate of Warsaw University and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
    On Tuesday, the Polish Embassy in conjunction with the Begin Center, held a memorial day for Kaczynski to enable Jerusalemites and those living south of Jerusalem to honor the late president’s memory by coming to sign the condolence book. Polish Ambassador Agnieska Magdziak Miszewska was in attendance to receive the many sympathizers including several dignitaries, among them Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Minister without Portfolio Bennie Begin and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. The Polish flag was mounted at the entrance to the building, and there were also Polish flags inside.
  • ONE OF the country’s most respected long-time journalists, Uzi Benziman, writing in The Seventh Eye an e-journal for journalists by journalists published by the Israel Democracy Institute, takes investigative journalist Yoav Yitzhak to task for crossing professional red lines. It was Yitzhak who initially blew the whistle on the Holyland scandal which seems to be cutting so many big shots down to size. Benziman queries whether it was legitimate (within the framework of journalistic ethics), for Yitzhak to take on the role of deep throat and provide the police with the names of suspects and other data gleaned in the course of his own investigations. Most other journalists would rather go to prison than to yield the fruits of their investigations to the police, but Yitzhak takes pride in the role that he played in making the Holyland unholy.
  • IN SEPHARDI circles, it is not unusual to call a grandchild after a living grandparent. In fact it’s a mark of honor and respect. Thus the first grandson of the country’s fifth president Yitzhak Navon, has the name Yitzhak as his middle name, but the infant’s parents, Erez and Hanital Navon, also wanted to call their baby Yoav.
  • WHEN HE left New York for Jerusalem 14 years ago to take over as director of the Israel Museum, James Snyder never imagined that one of the rewards for his labors would be to be invested with the insignia of a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. After all, one doesn’t come here to be decorated by the French. Snyder is one of four major contributors to cultural life who will be presented with the insignia next week by French Ambassador Christophe Bigot, who will host a reception at his residence for the occasion. The other honorees are Dubi Lenz, director of musical programs at Army Radio and director of jazz and other music festivals; Raphael Nadjari, director and scriptwriter; and Yossi Tal-Gan, the director of the Israel Festival.
  • INDIAN AMBASSADOR Navtej Singh Sarna and his wife Avina will also be engaged in cultural activity next week, but of a somewhat different nature in that they will host a reception at their residence for Dr. Ramachandra Guha, an eminent Indian historian and author, who is also a gifted speaker and has taught in various universities in Europe and the US. His books and essays cover a wide range of subjects including political history, environment, anthropology and cricket. He has been widely translated and is the winner of several awards, including the UK Cricket Society’s Literary Award and the Leopold-Hidy Prize of the American Society of Environmental History. He is, most recently, the author of India After Gandhi: The History of World’s Largest Democracy. He will give a brief address on “The world’s most unnatural nation? How India survives.”
  • AND LAST Friday, Hungarian Ambassador Zoltan Szentgyorgyi marked Holocaust Remembrance Day with a discussion on the works of poet Itamar Yaoz Kest, with the participation of the poet. The discussion was led by Prof. Chana Yaoz. A musical interlude was provided by singer/guitarist Shuli Natan. The event was held at the Hungarian Embassy in Tel Aviv.
  • AND THEN there’s pop culture in the form of A Star Is Born, the finals of which will this year be held in Jerusalem’s Sultan’s Pool and will fall in line with the plans of Mayor Nir Barkat to bring increasing numbers of visitors from all over the country to the capital. In announcing that the eighth season finals of the popular talent show will be held in Jerusalem, Barkat said that over the past year, Jerusalem has evolved into the country’s cultural capital. Some Tel Avivians might argue with that, and Haifa might also contest such a contention, but there’s no denying the fact that there are many more cultural events taking place in Jerusalem than in past years.
    One only has to look at poster boards around the city to see the volume and variety of cultural activities. The Jerusalem Municipality has invested NIS 1 million in upgrading the Sultan’s Pool which can now seat 7,000 – twice as many as the amphitheater in Caesarea. Among the entertainers who have performed at the Sultan’s Pool in the past year were Rita, Ivri Lider, Moshe Peretz, Kobi Peretz, Sarit Hadad, Harel Skaat, Idan Reichel, Yehudit Ravitz and Aviv Gefen.
  • ADDING WEIGHT to the old adage that a friend in need is a friend indeed, Kadima MK and former finance minister Ronnie Bar-On announced that he was proud to be a friend of Ehud Olmert’s and that he hoped that Olmert would succeed in overcoming the problems currently confronting him. Just as a matter of interest, Bar-On is not the only friend of Olmert’s who is providing moral support for the beleaguered former prime minister.
  • “I DIDN’T exactly want my son to be a Capo,” says veteran photographer Vera Etzion about her son Omer Etzion. The truth is that it’s only a stage role in the Cameri Theater’s traveling production of Dan Clancy’s The Timekeepers or Sha’onim as it’s known in Hebrew. Co-starring Rami Baruch as a homosexual and Roy Horovitz as a Jewish horologist, the plot is set in Sachsenhausen concentration camp where watchmakers were apparently in demand. The three, each representing a different minority, are thrown together by fate, and their differences, notwithstanding the uniform striped pajamas, are made all the more obvious by the patches they are forced to wear as a sign of who they are. The Jew has yellow, the homosexual pink and the Capo green.
    For all its familiarity, the plot offers some surprises. It was translated from the original English into Hebrew by Sheila Farber, but the trio has played in English in Canada, England, Ireland and currently New York. Outside of Israel, the only country in which they perform in Hebrew is Germany. They have become so entrenched in the English version that they can be awakened from a deep sleep and will still know their lines, they say. At the end of each performance they discuss the play with the audience and are more interested in listening to honest but constructive criticism than in fishing for compliments.
  • JEWISH AGENCY Chairman Natan Sharansky was the keynote speaker at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue’s monthly Friday night dinner for lone soldiers. Sharansky related his life story to an enthralled audience, and remarked that in a sense he had been a lone soldier during years of incarceration in solitary confinement in Siberia, but he had known all along that the Jewish people around the world were with him, and therefore he did not feel alone. He made the point that the lone soldiers were also not alone because they were fighting together for a common cause.
  • ALTHOUGH THERE may not seem to be anything special about a 32nd birthday, for people who delve in gematria, it has great significance in that the Hebrew letters equivalent to 32 are lamed bet, which spell lev, which means heart. Thus when Jerusalemite Pnina Weiss celebrated her 32nd birthday, she decided to make it an all heart affair by hosting a blood donation drive at her home in Katamon. Weiss arranged for Magen David Adom to send a bloodmobile, with the result that MDA received more blood donations in one morning than it usually does from its regular center of town donor station in the plaza alongside Hamashbir. Guests and donors later munched on heart-shaped delicacies prepared by the birthday lady and also received heart-shaped goody bags. To round off the heart-warming occasion, the music selected for the event was all heart-themed.
    li> INTERNATIONAL CHESS champion Garry Kasparov will simultaneously play against 30 contestants in an exhibition match against Tel Aviv University students and other youth to be held at TAU in May within the framework of the Dan David Prize ceremonies. Valued at $3 million, the prestigious Dan David Prize has been awarded in collaboration with TAU to institutions and individuals from Israel and abroad. The prize was first awarded in 2002.
  • IN ORDER to interest Israelis engaged in business in England in some form of financial involvement in the 2012 Olympics, the UK trade and investment section of the British Embassy last week hosted a reception at the Therapeutic Riding Center in Tel Mond in honor of Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the Welsh-born Paralympic champion, who was born with spina bifida and is confined to a wheelchair. Very small at birth, she was christened Carys-Davina, but her sister referred to her as “tiny” which she pronounced “tanni” and the name not only stuck, but became her trademark.
    Refusing to allow her physical disability to deprive her in any way,Grey-Thompson first came to public attention as a junior athlete andwent on to become one of the most amazing achievers among disabledathletes in the UK. In an international career that spanned slightlyfewer than 20 years, she won a total of 16 Paralympic medals, including11 gold medals. She also held more than 30 world records and won theLondon Marathon six times. Since her retirement from competitive sportsthree years ago, she has expanded her television career, sits on theboards of various national and international sports organizations andis an international inspiration ambassador.