Grapevine: Between Jerusalem and Rome

A network of friendships with Italy, diverse doings down under, and Sharansky returns to Moscow.

LINKS BETWEEN Jerusalem and Rome span a bridge of centuries, and it is no secret that Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is extremely well disposed toward Israel. It is also no secret that Avi Pazner, world chairman of the Jerusalem-based Keren HayesodUnited Israel Appeal, is a former ambassador to Italy who has maintained his strong connections with Rome. Pazner is a member of the steering committee of the International Leadership Reunion which opens in Rome on November 1. The ILR is a gathering of leaders and contributors to major Jewish philanthropic organizations around the world, who over the years have developed a strong network which has led to many international friendships among wealthy Jews who have a high sense of commitment to Jewish continuity and who support numerous projects in their home communities and in Israel. Berlusconi will host the gala closing dinner at the official state mansion Villa Madama. President Giorgio Napolitano will also host a reception for ILR participants at the Quiranale Palace. Although there will be no arm twisting, it has been suggested that participants make a voluntary minimal commitment of $250,000 to their annual community campaigns for Israel. Among the highlights of the three-day ILR program are a ceremony at the Arch of Titus with Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and Chief Rabbi of Rome Ricardo Di Segni; a private visit to the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican; a gala opening dinner at the magnificent Palazzo Colonna; and addresses by international security expert Prof. Edward Luttwak, who will speak on Iran and the nuclear threat; former Bank of Israel governor and current vice chairman of AIG Jacob Frenkel and leading French economist Prof. Jacques Attali, who will discuss the world financial crisis. Honey and Barry Sherman Toronto are the international chairs of the event, partnered by Eitan Wertheimer, Israel; Robert Haggiag, Rome; and Michael I. Lebovitz, Chattanooga, Tennessee. HAD HE not succumbed to prostate cancer in April, Australian mega-philanthropist Richard Pratt, who through the Pratt Foundation contributed to numerous Australian and Israeli projects and causes, annually giving away double digit millions of dollars, would most certainly have made it a point to be in Rome on November 1. Pratt was here exactly one year prior to his death for the dedication in Beersheba of the Park of the Australian Soldier, which was officially opened by then Australian governor-general Michael Jeffery and President Shimon Peres. The park, commemorating the October 31, 1917 charge by the Australian Light Horse Brigade that led to the defeat of the Turks, is dedicated to children with disabilities and is designed to enable them to enjoy physical activities to which they could not aspire under usual conditions. Pratt's widow, Jeanne Pratt, and members of her family will arrive at the end of October to participate in a series of memorial events, including a ceremony at the park on November 1. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, former prime minister Ehud Olmert and Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman have already indicated that they will attend. The Pratt Foundation contributed generously to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev during of WHILE RELATIONS between Jerusalem and Rome continue to flourish in many directions, those with Washington tend to be strained from time to time especially on issues related to expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the future status of Jerusalem. While many American politicians from both sides of the aisle have made positive statements in recognition of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, the powers that be are in no hurry to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite commitments by more than one US president. Some of the views on Jerusalem expressed by the current administration may have prompted the initiative for a one-day conclave on Capitol Hill to precede the annual Jerusalem conference which will take place on February 15-17. Under the banner "Reinforcing US-Israeli Ties," the conclave will include leaders of Congress, Israeli government ministers, MKs, municipal leaders, diplomats and retired generals from both countries. The key discussions will focus on the unity of Jerusalem, the realities of the peace process and regional threats to global security and how to confront them. The list of speakers is yet to be finalized but it is on the cards that Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the UN, now president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, will be among them. THE ABSENCE of this column last week can be attributed to the fact that its writer was in her native turf of Melbourne, which has become home to numerous Israelis, including her cousin Oded Weingarten whose wedding she attended. According to Jewish politician Michael Danby, who is a Federal Labor Member of Parliament, some 800 Israelis settle annually in Australia. Among the Israelis who are veteran residents of Melbourne are print and electronic media journalist Yehuda Svoray, artist Rimona Kedem, whose wide ranging knowledge of Bible and Talmud won her several commissions to produce stained glass windows for synagogues in Melbourne and Mexico; building contractor Yehuda Kabilo; hairdressers Offer Meoded and Isaac Batzli and musician Matan Franco. There are also many Australians who after several years in Israel returned home. Among them are Sonia and Daniel Lew, who ran a llama farm at Ramat Raziel; Len Fagenblat, who was a soldier during the Six Day War; and Eva Urbach, who with her late husband Henry was among the prestate settlers on Kfar Blum. Jaber Zornberg Mervis, Braverman's tenure as president. Olmert and Pratt were good friends and after Olmert was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the friendship deepened. The Pratt family will continue on to Rome for the second day of the ILR. Zvi Slonim Noam Bedein David Menashri, Fania Oz-Salzberger, Aviva Claude Klein; Jonathan Shlomo Riskin; Pinchas Zuckerman, Rula Shubeeta, Issa Debbie Weissman; Mordechai Sobel Ofir Yitzhak Meir Helfgot. command of English and a knack for telling a story as evidenced in the videotaped anecdotes accompanying the concerts. In Sydney, Helfgot sang to an audience of 1,500, many of whom begged him to stay and conduct Sabbath services. He agreed on condition that he received a fee of $10,000. There was a quick consultation among philanthropists and in less than 15 minutes major businessmen Joseph Brender, Frank Loewy, and Harry Triguboff produced the desired sum with the result that the Central Synagogue was again packed to capacity. At the Caulfield Synagogue in Melbourne, where 1,100 tickets were sold, Helfgot, in addition to solos, sang with Farkas and the latter's son Zev who is the Caulfield Synagogue Cantor. At the conclusion of the magnificent performance that included Jewish folk music and liturgical pieces, the younger Farkas asked: "Do you want more?" To which the audience roared "Yes!" Helfgot who is a Gur hassid and always appears dressed in the traditional garb, surprised everybody by singing an opera aria. The audience again went wild. The operatic item was followed by a Carlebach medley to which the audience clapped, but did not respond to Helfgot's invitation to join him. Who would want to drown out that voice? The Melbourne concert was made possible through the generosity of John Gandel, who sponsors several important educational projects in Israel, mining millionaire; Joseph Gutnick, who initiated the "Bibi is good for the Jews" campaign during Binyamin Netanyahu's first run for the premiership; David Smorgon of the Smorgon Group, well known patrons of the arts; and the Pratt Foundation. APROPOS Frank Loewy, who is chairman of the executive of Israel's Institute for National Security Studies and one of several prominent Australians who are personal friends of Ehud Olmert's, his philanthropy extends from his pocket to his personal space. Loewy gave up his office at the INSS in favor of the Ze'ev Schiff Memorial Library. Schiff, who was the long-time, highly respected military editor and correspondent for Haaretz, died in June 2007. A frequent lecturer at the INSS, he was also a fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies which has established an annual lecture in his memory. Schiff's family donated his extensive library to the INSS, and because there was no suitable space in which to house it, Loewy happily surrendered his office. At a Schiff memorial event at the INSS, Loewy invited participants to visit his office, where he and Schiff's widow Sarah along with INSS director Oded Eran unveiled the memorial plaque, thereby officially turning the office into a library. Among those present were members of the Schiff family, Itamar Rabinovich, former president of Tel Aviv University; Tali Lipkin-Shahak, former military correspondent for the defunct Davar; former finance minister Avraham Shochat; former deputy defense ministers Dalia Rabin and Ephraim Sneh; journalist Ehud Ya'ari who coauthored books with Schiff; former OV Air Force David Ivry, former public security minister Avi Dichter; Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken and many of Schiff's colleagues from academia and the media. DIAMONDS MAY well be a girl's best friend, but what for decades seemed to be the immortal philosophy of novelist Anita Loos disintegrated during the current economic crisis. Diamonds which were the country's major money earner, suffered a near fatal blow, according to several speakers at the opening of the exhibition of the best entries submitted to a jewelry design competition initiated by the Israel Diamond Institute Group of companies in honor of the country's 60th anniversary. Many of the who's who in the diamond industry attended the launch, among them IDI chairman Moti Ganz, IDI managing director Eli Avidar, Israel Diamond Exchange deputy president Kobi Korn, president of the Israel Precious Stones Exchange Shlomo Eshed, diamond controller and manager of the Diamonds, Precious Stones and Jewelry Administration in the Ministry of Industry and Trade Shmuel Mordechai and, of course, Shmuel Schnitzer, chairman of the Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Museum where the exhibition was held, and Yehuda Kassif, art director of the museum and the curator of the exhibition. Speakers made it clear that even though there has been a tremendous plunge in the sale of diamonds and precious stones, it is of great importance to come out with new, innovative designs that will be in place when the economy turns around and people once FORMER LONG time Jerusalem Post military correspondent Arieh O'Sullivan, who subsequently served as Israel spokesman for the ADL, is now back in harness as a journalist. He was recently appointed bureau chief of The Media Line, a nonprofit news agency that promotes independent print, radio and TV coverage throughout the Middle East. He succeeds David Harris who was a Post economics reporter prior to covering a much wider field. more begin to buy. There was cautious optimism that the diamond and precious stones industries would enjoy the beginnings of a revival next year. Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar, who attends nearly all of the diamond industry's key events, commented that the museum is too small and that there is a move afoot to enlarge it. In fact when more than a handful of people are inside, it is almost impossible to view the beautiful creations on display. Happily Kassif placed the three winning entries very close to the entrance to enable anyone who poked their head inside to get some concept of the quality of the designs. One of the purposes of the competition was to encourage Israeli designers to use Israeli diamonds in the manufacture of unique jewelry. Many of the entries incorporated Jewish symbolism, though not always in an obvious manner, and managed to do so without resorting to kitsch. First prize winner was Shaoul Aharon Elisha, a Haifa-based scion of a family of jewelers. A student of mysticism, Elisha was inspired by kabbalistic and other Jewish motifs, and produced an interactive ring which can be rearranged to suit the taste and mood of the wearer. Second prize went to Haifa designers Orly Eizenman, an insurance agent and poet, who together with Drorit Vaserberger, an artist and diver, created heart-shaped earrings of white gold studded with black and white diamonds. Third prize went to 10th generation Israeli and Shenkar College graduate Yaniv Shapira, whose ring includes symbols reflecting the Star of David and the Declaration of Independence. The exhibition will remain on view till the end of December. REGARDLESS OF the depreciation of the dollar, Israeli companies are looking to do business in the US and to extend their business interests in New York. They may get a boost in this direction following the appointment of Deborah Fuchs as director of business development at the New York State Trade Office here. Fuchs, who has a master's in business administration and a bachelor's degree in communications, was previously director of the international relations division at the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce. She will be promoting and supporting Israeli companies and factories that are keen to expand their operations throughout the state and will keep them updated on business opportunities. The New York State Trade Office was established in 1998 with the aim of promoting economic relations between Israel and New York and is one of 11 offices active worldwide. THERE'S NO doubt that Judy Shalom Nir Mozes can be persuasive. There was yet another proof of her abilities when she persuaded businesspeople and celebrities to part with more than NIS 300,000 at a benefit night on behalf of hungry children at Reading 3. She recruited stand-up comedians Shalom Asiag, Uri Hezkiya and Shahar Hasson to put everyone in a good and giving mood. Towards the end of the evening, dissatisfied with the sum raised through ticket sales, she mounted the stage and managed to persuade some of those present to part with a little more so that more food packages valued at NIS 360 each could be made up for the poor. Moshe Bublil, the owner of Club Hotel, donated NIS 36,000 - a symbolic figure in that according to gematria it is twice life multiplied by a thousand. Not a bad wish to convey to the needy in the spirit of Rosh Hashana. Sports trainer and businessman Mickey Dorsman came up with something in the range of NIS 20,000. Nir Mozes's efforts netted an additional NIS 100,000 bringing the sum total raised during the evening to NIS 350,000. Faces spotted in the crowd belonged to broadcaster Nissim Mishal, singer Moshe Datz, super model Shiraz Tal and various members of the business community including Rutie and Moshe Castiel, Shuki Abramowitz, Ya'acov Bardugo, Shimon Sheves and Ron Louvish. WELL KNOWN in local and international literary and debating circles, Asher Weill is the convenor and organizer of the Eighth Anglo-Israel Colloquium taking place from September 10-13, at Kfar Hamaccabiah in Ramat Gan, on the topic: "In Loco Parentis: Who Should Raise our Children?" Some 40 leading experts from the UK and Israel will be discussing issues of mutual interest concerning child welfare. Unfortunately, the colloquium is not open to the public, but interested parties can approach Weill afterward to get the gist of the discussions. He can be reached at WHEN HE was released from Soviet incarceration in 1986, no one would have believed that Natan Sharansky, arguably the most famous of all dissidents in the Soviet Union, would ever return to Russia. In fact, he has done so more than once - most recently this past week in his capacity as chairman of the Jewish Agency. He is also scheduled to travel to Moscow in the first half of 2010 when he will take on the role of tour guide to a delegation of the Victoria United Israel Appeal headed by UIA of Victoria president Shlomo Werdiger. A Chabad hassid whose grandfather was among the founders of Chabad in Australia, Werdiger does not fit into the conventional Chabad stereotype, other than the fact that he and his wife Shirla, a physician, have seven children and run an open household in which guests of all stripes are always welcome. He is a university graduate with a string of degrees including one from Harvard, a highly successful businessman, an expert skier and cyclist who takes his bike around the world and during the week, he leaves his long black coat and black hat at home - though his kippa is always in place. EVEN IN this modern age where most Jews live in freedom and have access to established Jewish communities, not every Jewish boy celebrates a bar mitzva. Missing out on a bar mitzva was much more common under totalitarian regimes or in time of war. Many elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union did not have a bar mitzva, nor did many Europeans who were caught up in World War II. But better late than never says Zvi Hendler, general manager of the Ahuzat Rishonim retirement home, who arranged a ceremony for four of the residents: Israel, 79, Sammy, 87, Amos, 79, and Avram, 81. It is unclear why Sammy missed out on a bar mitzva, but the others all turned 13 after the war had erupted. All four were born in Poland. Once he became aware of the fact that they had missed out on one of the most important celebrations in the life of a Jewish boy, Hendler encouraged them to study for six months and to be called up to the Torah to read their portions. After the service in which Hendler listened in pride and rapt attention to his "boys," he confessed that he had been more excited than when attending his own bar mitzva.