Grapevine: Aliya's the ticket

The 35th Zionist Congress shows new immigrant families still euphoric from their arrival.

zeev bielski 298.88 (photo credit: IDF)
zeev bielski 298.88
(photo credit: IDF)
PRESIDENT KATSAV'S peregrinations will continue throughout the remaining year of his presidency. Katsav was supposed to visit the Czech Republic in the same week that he visited Bulgaria earlier this month, but the visit has been postponed till later this year - possibly October. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko has invited Katsav to come to Kiev in September to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the massacre in Babi Yar. Jews murdered by Nazi SS squads between 1941 and 1943 are buried in a mass grave in Babi Yar in the Ukrainian capital. For many years there was no monument to tell the world about what happened in Babi Yar. But since 1961, when Yevgenyi Yevtushenko wrote his famous Babi Yar poem which caused a furor around the world, Babi Yar has acquired poetic, musical and stone monuments. (Dmitri Shostakovich was inspired by the Babi Yar poem when he wrote his Thirteenth Symphony.) Yushchenko believes that Israel has played a significant role in preserving the memory of Babi Yar, and that this can be reinforced by Katsav's participation in a ceremony aimed at teaching the lessons of history to the younger generation in the hope of preventing hatred and discrimination. In the interim, Katsav is nurturing international relations on the home front. Tomorrow, Thursday, he is scheduled to receive the credentials of five new ambassadors: from Korea, Serbia, Chile, Belarus and Poland. Katsav has a private tete-a-tete about bilateral relations and developments in the region with each of the new envoys, who sometimes deliver invitations on behalf of their respective heads of state for him to visit their countries.
  • ALIYA WAS the central theme at the opening of the 35th Zionist Congress this week. Video clips of recently arrived and still euphoric new immigrant families, who had come under the Nefesh B'Nefesh program, were followed by a declaration by Jewish Agency Board of Governors Chairperson Carole Solomon that French aliya this year will increase by 25 percent as the outcome of an aliya fair that was held in France in February. On the same aliya wavelength, Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization Executive Chairman Zeev Bielsky recalled that his first major mission on behalf of the Jewish Agency had been as an aliya emissary in South Africa, where he met his own personal ola, his wife, Keren, whom he brought back to Israel. Bielsky concluded his address to the packed Binyanei Ha'uma audience with a repeated call for all the delegates to make aliya. But before that, he did not forget the man who put him in his current position and sent good wishes for a full recovery to still comatose former prime minister Ariel Sharon.
  • IN RA'ANANA, where Bielsky was mayor for 17 years before heading the Jewish Agency, current Mayor Nahum Hofree last week welcomed a delegation from Boulogne-Billancourt, Ra'anana's sister city in France. Deputy mayor Leon Sebbag, who initiated the sister city friendship in 1994, accompanied Philippe Tellini, the recently appointed Boulogne-Billancourt City Council member responsible for developing international relations, on a three-day fact-finding tour aimed at initiating joint projects and exchanges for 2006/7. During visits to schools around the city, Tellini also took advantage of the opportunity to meet with new immigrant parents and students from France, and said that this was one of the highlights of his sojourn. He was particularly impressed by personal stories of integration into Israeli society, and the part that the schools and the municipality play in ensuring that this process goes smoothly.
  • GETTING BACK to the Zionist Congress and the upcoming Jewish Agency Assembly, at least one family is there in a two-generational capacity. Jerusalem-based Naomi Leibler is participating as president of World Emunah. Her son, Romi, came in from Australia to represent the Orthodox Union; her brother-in-law, Mark Leibler, is World Chairman of the Keren Hayesod Board of Trustees, and also flew in from Australia; while his son, Jeremy, represents Australia in the World Mizrachi delegation.
  • EVERYONE IS familiar with Washington D.C., but now there's also a Jerusalem, D.C. - and it's not in the United States. Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupoliansky, when welcoming visitors to the capital, calls it "Jerusalem, D.C. - David's City," and urges Jewish delegations not only to make aliya in general, but to specifically make aliya to Jerusalem. Given the number of prestigious residential projects that are likely to become luxury ghost towns - as has David's Village opposite the walls of the Old City - it's small wonder that the mayor is pushing for increased aliya.
  • THE RAMAT GAN-based Bolton advertising and public relations agency has published a list of the 100 most influential haredim. Surprisingly, it includes a number of women, one of whom is Channel 2 broadcaster Sivan Rahav Meir. Barely 25, Meir, who is about to give birth to her second child, is in high demand as a speaker and moderator of serious debates on a variety of subjects. She also finds time to write books and articles with her husband, Yedidia Meir, who is also a broadcaster. Another woman on the list is Zvia Leviev Alazorov, 29, the daughter of business tycoon Lev Leviev, whose name also appears in the 100. Alazarov, who has a degree in business administration from Bar-Ilan University, sits on the board of Africa Israel Investments Ltd., and is the acting chair of Anglo-Saxon Real Estate. She is also the marketing director of Africa Israel's residential division. Aside from that, she's involved in a number of charities and also runs a household. Among the other women listed are: Yehudit Yosef, the daughter-in-law and housekeeper of Shas spiritual mentor and former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the sister of former Shas spokesman Yitzhak Sudry; veteran Yediot Aharonot journalist Shoshana Chen, whose incisive investigative reporting in the paper's financial pages is widely respected; dietician Ruhama Elboim, who has influenced numerous haredi women to eat properly and lose weight; Tzippi Yishai, the wife of Shas leader Eli Yishai, who is also listed; and Yaffa Deri, the wife of former Shas leader Arye Deri, who, though he no longer holds any official position, continues to wield considerable influence. Yaffa Deri is well known for her work on behalf of the needy. The list also includes such well-known haredi figures as Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Ya'acov Litzman; Dudi Zilbershlag, founder of the Meir Panim philanthropic organization which inter-alia runs a chain of soup kitchens across the country; and former MK, journalist, broadcaster and spokesman for the Belzer Rebbe, Israel Eichler. The list has caused a great deal of controversy in the haredi community - presumably more with regard to who was excluded, rather than who was included.
  • ALSO THE subject of controversy among haredim is David Assaf's book, Caught in the Thicket: Chapters of Crisis and Discontent in the Hassidic World. Assaf, who holds the chair in the department of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University, has not disclosed any new scandals, but has unearthed a few that were swept under the Hassidic carpet. Some of these not-so-pleasant stories relate to the progeny of very famous rabbis, whose disciples would prefer that the stories - some of which are not only decades, but centuries old - would remain forgotten. Assaf's revelations have excited a spate of angry and unhappy reactions on the Internet.
  • WITH AN ongoing upwardly mobile career - marked by a string of television shows he hosts and a series of leading roles in stage productions - it would be safe to assume that Tzvika Hadar would have realized all his ambitions, or at least have overcome feelings of awe. But no. Hadar was in awe last week of being the "meat" in the sandwich between Education Minister Yuli Tamir and philanthropist Shari Arison, who also happens to be Israel's wealthiest woman. The occasion was the introduction, at Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Theater, of an anti-violence project aimed at reducing the hostilities which have become too frequent a feature of Israel's night-life. Hadar was one of the celebrities who attended the launch of the project, which is a joint venture between the Internal Security Ministry, the Education Ministry, the Israel Police, the Union of Local Authorities and Bank Hapoalim, in which Arison has the controlling interest.
  • IN ISRAEL last week gathering information that might discredit the key witnesses against their client, Ze'ev Rosenstein, were lawyers Howard Strebnick and Roy Black. Rosenstein, 51, who, for a long time, was considered Israel's number one crime boss, was extradited to the US last March to face charges of distributing massive quantities of Ecstasy. According to the two lawyers, Rosenstein, whose English is very limited, is contending with tougher conditions than most of the other prisoners. He has been placed in solitary confinement in a very small cell; he is allowed only one phone call per week to his family or legal advisers; and he was denied both a seder during Pessah and a visit by a rabbi. Instead, he was visited by a Christian clergyman who did not speak Hebrew. His lawyers had to intercede to get him a change of underwear. Although his lawyers are convinced they will win the case, in the event that they lose, his consolation is that he will be allowed to serve his sentence in Israel, where life in prison will be relatively more comfortable.
  • ALL THE information campaigns for road safety in Israel seem to have fallen on deaf ears. So Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz has decided that violators of road safety rules will pay more attention if their misdemeanors become more costly. Toward this end, anyone caught using a hand-held cell phone or sending an SMS while driving will henceforth be fined NIS 2,250.