Grapevine: A year of milestone anniversaries

40 years since Jerusalem's reunification; half a century since Europe Day; six decades since the UN resolution partitioning Palestine; and 90 years since the Balfour Declaration.

2007 IS proving to be a year of major significance. Even before the start of the year-long celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem comes the 50th anniversary of Europe Day. It will be celebrated tonight at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv with a gala Europe Day concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of George Pehlivanian and a reception hosted by Ambassador Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal, the delegation head of the EU Commission to Israel. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is scheduled to speak at the concert, though it's not certain whether she will stay to listen to works by Beethoven, including a rendition of Beethoven's Piano Concerto #3 by the brilliant young Turkish pianist, Fazil Say. Europe Day, celebrated on May 9, is the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration. Speaking in Paris in 1950, Robert Schuman, then foreign minister of France, proposed a new form of political arrangement for Europe, whose aim was to make war between Europe's nations both unthinkable and materially impossible. Earlier this year, on March 25, the European Union celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signature of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which laid the institutional and legal foundations for today's European Union. November has two very important anniversaries vis- -vis the State of Israel. One is the 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and the other is the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Resolution on the Partition of Palestine. Less than a week after that is the 75th anniversary of The Jerusalem Post. For anyone just looking for an anniversary of any significance, this year marks the 110th anniversary not only of the First Zionist Congress in Basel, but also the 110th anniversary of the founding of the Bund in Vilna, and the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It's also the 60th anniversary of Kibbutz Ha'ogen, the 70th anniversary of Kibbutz Hulata and Kibbutz Ein Gev, the 80th anniversary of Kibbutz Bet Zera and Kibbutz Ein Shemer - and that's just a short list of milestone celebrations for the kibbutz movement this year.
  • ANOTHER ANNIVERSARY of sorts will be the rededication by the Israel Ireland Friendship League of the Eamon de Valera Irish Forest in Galilee on May 17 to mark the 40th anniversary of the original planting. The event will be attended by Irish Ambassador Michael Forbes and Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog, whose grandfather - chief rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog - was a close friend of de Valera. Moreover, his uncle, Dr. Yaacov Herzog, then director-general of the Prime Minister's Office gave the official address at the original tree-planting ceremony and Herzog's father, Chaim Herzog, was the patron of the Israel Ireland Friendship League.
  • THE AUDITORIUM of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center was packed recently with mostly Irgun and Stern Gang veterans and their offspring who had come to sing songs of the Underground that had been part and parcel of their daily lives when fighting both the British and the Arabs more than sixty years ago. They came together under the banner of the late Shlomo Skulski, who had written many songs for right-wing underground movements. Skulski's daughter, Etya, came on stage to sing some of his songs. Yehuda Blecher, who brought along a band and several wonderful singers, said that the evening - which was primarily to mark the 60th anniversary of the Irgun raid on the Acre Prison - should be free of politics, especially because six months after the Irgun had rescued Jewish prisoners from Acre, the UN passed the resolution that paved the way for the Jewish state. However, there was no escaping the number of times that photographs of Jabotinsky, Trumpeldor and Stern were flashed on the screen alongside lyrics of songs they had authored. Teddy Kollek's laughing portrait was also shown and no one, remembering the recent revelation that Kollek had provided information on Irgun and Stern Gang members to the British, made a fuss about having his image in the hall. In fact Blecher, who is extremely knowledgeable about songs, composers, lyricists and their families, kept up a lively patter about each song, and even introduced a few of the songs of left-wing organizations which were sung just as enthusiastically by the crowd. There may have been ideological differences, said Blecher, but the songs always crossed these barriers. The melodies were generally reminiscent of Russia, but from the lyrics one could always tell which side of the political fence the writer was on. The right-wing songs were always more ideological. One of the oldest people present - if not the oldest - was songwriter Zvi Even Zahav, 93, who is both a lyricist and composer. The crowd would not allow the evening to conclude without a lusty rendition of The Song of Betar, which they sang with gusto. They were so caught up with it that they had already begun to disperse when someone remembered that they hadn't sung Hatikva. Everyone stopped in their tracks and, with great feeling, belted out the national anthem.
  • AGE IS no barrier for nonagenarian travelers. Several of the people who have immigrated to Israel over the past year are in their nineties and still hale and hearty. Similarly, the 95-year-old spiritual mentor to the Ponevitcher Lithuanian community, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, and the Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Arye Alter, went to France at the end of April to bring spiritual sustenance to the Jewish communities there, and they were received with great emotion. Some 18 months ago, the pair traveled to North America and Central America, and about a year before that, Steinman toured France on his own. This time around, Steinman continued to Manchester and Gateshead, while Alter made his way to Antwerp and back to Israel. In England, Shteinman received an even warmer reception than in France. The two were not the only major league rabbis traveling from Israel. At around the same time, the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Issachar Dov Rokeach, led close to 1,500 Belzer hassidim from around the world to Belz in Ukraine, where they prayed at the graves of the first three Belzer rebbes - Rabbi Shulem, whose grave was only recently discovered, Rabbi Shia and his son Rabbi Issachar Dov for whom the present rebbe was named.
  • LIVING ABROAD may be an interesting adventure, but for special occasions, people often like to celebrate at home. Ido Hamani, the son of Jenny and Gabi, came home from New Jersey to celebrate his bar mitzva. The five-member Hamani family is spending a five-year stint in the US to where Gabi Hamani has been transferred by Bank Hapoalim. He crosses daily from New Jersey to New York to his managerial position in the bank's Manhattan branch. The family came home to Israel to celebrate the bar mitzva so that Ido could be with the relatives and friends with whom he grew up. The celebration was held last Friday at Moshav Shoresh, with people coming in from many parts of the country. The actual ceremony will be held at the Western Wall tomorrow. The highlight at the Shoresh affair was a drum duet by father and son. In addition to acquitting himself well on the drums, Ido is a natural athlete, as shown in a video presentation of his life in which he was seen shooting goals in basketball, swimming and gracefully executing gymnastic exercises. Although technically his bar mitzva marks his transition from boyhood to manhood, his father advised him to take his time, and to remain a boy for as long as he wanted. "To us," he said, "you will always be a boy."
  • ADL NATIONAL director Abe Foxman, a child Holocaust survivor, has for all of his adult life been fighting anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-racism. In recognition of the international leadership role he has taken in these areas, Bar Ilan University will next week confer an honorary doctorate on him. The dynamic Foxman, who has served as the national director of the ADL since 1987, is also vocal on matters of assimilation and the preservation of Jewish identity, and visits Israel so regularly that he is almost on a commute. Foxman will receive his honorary doctorate on May 15 within the framework of the university's 52nd meeting of the Board of Trustees. All of Foxman's visits to Israel are working visits, and honors aside, this will be no exception. On the day prior to receiving his doctorate, Foxman will give a press briefing in which he is to release a survey on attitudes towards Jews, Iran, Israel and the Palestinians based on research conducted in France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Poland. The ADL regularly polls countries in Europe to test the barometer of anti-Semitism and racism.
  • MEMBERS OF Israel's business community will be racing backwards and forwards between Bar Ilan University and Tel Aviv University. Sharing a podium with Foxman at Bar Ilan will be Nochi Dankner, chairman of the IDB Group, who will also be conferred with an honorary doctorate, while at Tel Aviv University, Alfred Akirov, another prominent personality in the business world, will receive an honorary doctorate from that institute of higher learning.
  • WHEN RECALLING the Holocaust, the general tendency is to forget that Europeans were not the only victims. Tunisia was occupied by the Nazis from November 1942, and its 100,000 Jews were subjected to the same cruel decrees as were imposed on their European brothers and sisters. More than 5,000 Tunisian Jews were sent to forced labor camps and 160 Tunisian Jews in France were sent to death camps. On May 16, Yad Vashem will host a ceremony to mark the 64th anniversary of Tunisia's liberation from the Nazis. Participants will include Industry and Trade Ministry Eli Yishai, who though born in Israel is of Tunisian background and speaks Tunisian Arabic; and Israel's former ambassador to France, Nissim Zvilli, who was born in Tunisia. Tunisia is included in Yad Vashem's Valley of the Communities, where part of the ceremony will be conducted.
  • HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS, whose fortunes took a positive turn after the war, have frequently shared their hard-won affluence with Yad Vashem, contributing large sums to numerous projects. It is understandable that people who experienced this dark chapter in human history will do everything possible to ensure that the world does not forget. But now, more than 60 years after the end of the Second World War, it is second-generation survivors who are contributing to projects that will ensure that even when there is no one left who can actually remember, the sufferings of the victims will not be forgotten. Last Friday, Yad Vashem paid tribute to Ed and Fran Sonshine of Toronto for their ongoing support. Both are second-generation survivors. They attended the ceremony together with members of their family, friends, survivors, and participants of the UIA's Prime Minister's Mission. Edward Sonshine was born in 1947 in the DP camp in Bergen Belsen, Germany. His father, Ben Zonenszajn, was born in Parczew, Poland, and survived the horrors of Majdanek and Birkenau. Ed's mother, Helen, n e Feintuch, was born in Klimintova, Poland, and is an Auschwitz survivor. Fran Sonshine was born in 1947 in Cyprus, to Frida and Irving Lebovici. Irving (Itzchak Mendel) was born in Maramarosh, Romania, and survived the war working in slave labor battalions. Fran's mother, Frida n e Lichtenberg, was born in Transylvania, Romania, and from 1942-44, worked for a non-Jewish furrier in Budapest. In April 1944, Frida and her entire family were sent to Auschwitz. Only Frida and three of her sisters survived the Holocaust. Frida and Irving met after the war. Ardent Zionists, they were smuggled onto a boat to Palestine. The boat was apprehended by the British, and the passengers were sent to a DP camp in Cyprus, where Fran was born. When Fran was three months old, the family was allowed to move to Palestine, where Irving was active in the War of Independence. The family moved to Canada in 1952, but remained loyal to Israel. Today, Edward Sonshine is a well-known businessman and an active leader in the Jewish community, known for his philanthropy in various spheres. Both Ed and Fran are deeply committed to commemorating the Holocaust, passing on its legacy, and confronting the challenges of a new era in Holocaust commemoration. "We came from the ashes of the Holocaust losing most of our families," said Fran. "Our story is the story of the 20th-century Jew. The horrors of war, immigrants, no family or support system, and here we are." "We are extremely fortunate and we are very grateful," added Ed. Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev made the point that "with their own personal histories, the Sonshines embody so much of the Jewish story. They have committed themselves - joyfully - to ensuring the well-being of Jews in their own community and beyond. Their dedication to Holocaust remembrance and commemoration is an inspiration."
  • ISRAELI FASHION designers should do more to make their names better known abroad, opines New Yorker Fern Penn, the proprietor of Rosebud, an Israeli concept store she launched in Manhattan in October 2004. Penn and her husband, Leslie Penn, make ever-frequent trips to Israel to catch up with what's new on the local fashion and accessories scene, and to select items they think will sell in the store. Penn almost always wears Israeli conversation pieces which appeal to women in the over-35 age group. However, designer-label-conscious women in the younger age bracket may admire items that they see on the rack, but won't buy them unless they recognize the name of the designer. No matter how hard Penn may try to tell them how famous one designer or another is in Israel, if he or she is not a household word in America, it's difficult to sell the garment on its own merits to younger women. At the opposite end of the spectrum, she cannot get Israeli designers who are celebrities at home to understand that in New York, they're comparative nobodies. To emphasize the point, Leslie Penn said that he could display the most exquisite creation, without a designer label, and no one would buy it, whereas if he put a Marc Jacobs label on the most atrocious creation, he could almost name his own price, knowing that the garment would sell because of the label.
  • UP UNTIL recently, the diplomatic community, when holding events in Jerusalem instead of somewhere on the coastal plain, gravitated primarily between three of the capital's prestige hotels - all within a few minutes walk of each other. First and foremost was the stately King David. Then they accidentally discovered the Inbal Hotel when it was still the Laromme at a time when the King David was overbooked, and a diplomatic entourage had to be off-loaded to an equally suitable location and standard. Then with the advent of the David Citadel Hotel - the Johnny-come-lately in the trio, a number of diplomatic missions decided to house their heads of state and senior government ministers there. Yet with due respect to the Inbal and David's Citadel, the King David - perhaps because of its history and its long list of guests who have included royalty, presidents and prime ministers - still remains the preferred venue. Now there is a new player in the field - the Mount Zion Hotel - which overlooks the panorama of both east and west Jerusalem. The Mount Zion is not a new hotel, but its manager, Irit Gazit, came to Mount Zion from the King David, where she was extremely well-connected to the diplomatic community. Seeking to maintain that connection, she persuaded some to utilize the Mount Zion hotel, first and foremost as a base for visiting foreign dignitaries, then for receptions and conferences. When weighing prestige against budget, the latter sometimes wins out, especially when the hotel in question is fairly impressive. George Arveladze, Georgia's minister for economic development was there this week, Poland's Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga was there last month, and various European diplomats were there last week at an international conference reflecting on 50 years of European integration. Needless to say, there have been other diplomats and high-ranking foreign government officials. One of the reasons that the Mount Zion Hotel is gaining in popularity is because unlike the other hotels, it has something akin to Blair House: a large, free-standing villa which affords visitors both luxury and privacy - and breathtaking views.