Grapevine: Birthday boys

Barak and Ben-Eliezer share a birthday but not much else these days; Ian McEwan and Umberto Eco head to the Jerusalem Book fair.

Ian McEwan 311 (photo credit: Annalena McAfee)
Ian McEwan 311
(photo credit: Annalena McAfee)
THE CHASM between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer grows ever wider – but there’s one commonality that, no matter what, will not disappear. Both were born on February 12, and will celebrate their birthdays on Saturday. Barak will be 69 and Ben-Eliezer 75. For Barak, an even more important date will be February 14, not because it’s Valentine’s Day, but because it’s the day that Gabi Ashkenazi, with whom he is at such great odds, will cease to be chief of General Staff.
As for February birthdays, another that is coming up is that of Arye Deri, who in his heyday was considered the boy wonder of politics, and at 29 was interior minister.
Rumor has it that Deri, who will be 52 on February 17, is contemplating a political comeback now that the legal obstacles which previously stood in his way no longer exist.
■ THERE IS little doubt that Ashkenazi is much happier to have Benny Gantz as his successor than he was to have Yoav Galant. This was obvious in the warm embrace that he gave to Gantz on Saturday night when the two met at the Leonardo Hotel in Ramat Gan. Broadcaster Menahem Horowitz and his wife Tehiya were hosting their farewell to the North after spending more than three decades in Kiryat Shmona. Not only did Ashkenazi and Gantz embrace, they also joined Horowitz on stage for a sing-along tribute to the North.
The two were among some 1,000 guests, including businesspeople, past and present military personnel, politicians and broadcasting personalities. Among the past politicians was former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who despite his legal problems continues to be on many invitation lists.
Whether it’s a large or a small gathering, Olmert is never left in isolation. People are forever coming up to him to kiss him, hug him or shake his hand. In fact, since leaving office, his popularity has escalated.
Even the Hebrew media, which to a large extent influenced his resignation, are now quite kind to him.
■ POLITICS AND religion are unfortunately not strange bedfellows here. If there were no relationship between the two, many Jewish identity problems would have been settled long ago. As proof of the ongoing relationship, the Conversion Department of the Prime Minister’s Office, in conjunction with the Religious Education Administration and the educational branch of the IDF Chaplaincy Corps, will host a day-long seminar on ways to teach faith.
Curiously, the list of speakers does not include Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of the Ohr Etzion Yeshiva and former director of the State Conversion Authority, which he headed for 18 years. The seminar will be held on Monday, February 14 at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
■ WELL KNOWN Australian businessman and philanthropist Ruvi Herzog, who heads the Herzog Group, a private family group with interests in the automotive and boating industries, real estate and other sectors, was here last week with business colleagues from GreenEarth Energy, which has agreements with two local clean-tech related companies and is entering into a strategic alliance with the Weizmann Institute.
The Herzog Group is involved in a joint venture with GreenEarth Energy.
Herzog is also the founder of Hatzolah in Australia, and a year ago, when coming home from a flight, made national headlines when he saved the life of a woman who had suffered a heart attack at the airport.
Because Herzog is religiously observant and always has guests at his Sabbath table in Melbourne, he saw no reason to deviate from this practice in Jerusalem, as a result of which some 30 people sat down at his table at the King David Hotel last Friday night. Herzog’s Green Earth Energy partners are by and large not Jewish, but that did not deter Herzog from his regular traditions.
For much of the evening, he played musical chairs so that he could have some form of personal conversation with each of his guests who included, in addition to GreenEarth Energy chairman Rob Annells and managing director Mark Miller, Philip Zajic, CFO of the Melbourne-headquartered Erdi Group which owns, buys and manages hotels all over Australia and which is also involved with GreenEarth; Leon Kempler, chairman of the Australia- Israel Chamber of Commerce; Australian expatriates Izzy Tapoohi, president-designate of Israel Bonds, and his lawyer wife Regina, who works for the Justice Ministry; freelance marketing consultant Jay Bryce, and executive director of the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce Paul Israel.
Among the sabra guests were Judge Sefi Alon, head of the Southern District Courts, and his wife Yael, and Director of Shaare Zedek Medical Center director Jonathan Halevy and his wife Adina. When Alon heard who Halevy was, he became quite excited because both he and his mother were born at Shaare Zedek.
■ IT WAS a full house at the Hess Restaurant in Ra’anana this week, when Chaim BePlus launched its first fund-raising effort.
Compared to the ambitions of other organizations trying to raise funds, it had the very modest overall target of NIS 188,000. Chaim BePlus is the brainchild of Mindy Ajzner, originally from Canada, who is convinced that there would be less poverty and more hope for the future if people here learned to manage their money better and didn’t fall into the overdraft trap. Ajzner has devised special courses that have been certified by the Education and Defense ministries. The organization has 70 volunteers, 17 lecturers and two staff members. In the four years of its existence, it has provided courses at 80 different institutes and can boast 3,000 graduates.
But money management is not just a problem of the poor. Even in affluent society, children must be taught that mom and dad won’t pay for everything, and limits have to be put on that expenditure. To help parents better understand how to deal with their children money-wise, Chaim BePlus invited investment and tax experts Douglas Goldstein and Leon Harris, who write regular columns in The Jerusalem Post, to answer some questions put to them by Marc Singer, a member of the Chaim BePlus board.
Among those attending the fund raiser were former US congressman from Florida Peter Deutsch, honorary president of World Keren Hayesod Julia Koschitzky and Dr. Mark Schwartz, who teaches business ethics at York University in Toronto.
■ EVEN A man of peace may want to curl his finger around the trigger of a gun.
Thus, when President Shimon Peres last week visited the police counterterrorism unit, he could not resist posing for the camera with weapon in hand. Although the president was bare faced, members of the unit all wore masks to protect their identities. Members of the unit told Peres that they would not hesitate to risk their lives to bring abducted IDF soldier Gilad Schalit to freedom.
Peres was accompanied by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and outgoing Insp.-Gen. David Cohen. During his visit, he witnessed a simulated operation in which members of the unit took control of a building in which terrorists were holding hostages. Peres lauded the unit as being the best in the world, adding that it had saved countless lives through its covert operations, professionalism and expertise.
■ WHILE POLITICIANS and public servants, Peres included, received increases in their January salaries, most people did not, even though prices of commodities and services from bread to oil to transportation rose by several percentage points. The president’s gross monthly salary is now NIS 50,400, which after taxes comes to NIS 34,545. In addition, he receives a net monthly pension of NIS 17,395, which in total is a lot less than presidents of most other countries.
It is doubtful that any other president works harder than Peres, who more often than not puts in a 14-16 hour day. Former president Moshe Katsav, who has been convicted of rape and is awaiting sentence, last month received a pension increase equivalent to approximately one-third of the minimum wage.
■ LAST WEEK, Amalia Eyal and Eleanor Glickman issued a press release about the 25th Jerusalem International Book Fair, which opens on February 20 at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
Avid readers and other visitors will be able to rub shoulders with famous authors, editors, agents and publishers, as well as with a number of ambassadors who will be attending functions related to literary personalities and exhibits from their countries.
British author and Jerusalem Prize laureate Ian McEwan will be on hand and will probably be feted with even greater enthusiasm than were his predecessors, because he had the courage and integrity to ignore the British Israel-bashers who sought to dissuade him from coming. Best-selling Italian author Umberto Eco will also be in attendance and will engage best-selling author A.B. Yehoshua in conversation in the literary café. It will be one of many conversations between acclaimed writers from different countries.
The Book Fair, like so many of the city’s cultural traditions, was the brainchild of legendary mayor Teddy Kollek, who even when confined to a wheelchair and in the twilight of his life, kept attending its openings.
■ ARE ESCALATING tensions good for business? It depends on the nature of the business.
As far as the powers that be at Jerusalem Capital Studios are concerned, it’s been boom time. As a result of what’s been happening in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan, and in anticipation of what may happen elsewhere in the Middle East, there was a surge of global interest in what might emanate from the prestigious Herzliya Conference, hosted annually by the Interdisciplinary Center’s Institute for Policy and Strategy. Speakers always include high-ranking politicians, military personnel, security experts, economists, academics and businesspeople. In view of the changing Middle East, news outlets are naturally interested in anything that Israelis or prominent visitors might have to say on security and strategy.
According to Hanani Rapaport, CEO at JCS, more than 30 television stations worldwide received live feeds from the conference at their request. JCS sent a large mobile broadcast unit and six TV crews to produce the broadcasts, which were transmitted live to the company’s studios in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and then distributed to major international broadcast networks, including CNN, AP, Germany’s ARD and ZDF networks, Italy’s RAI, Britain’s SKY and to Canadian, French, Chinese and Japanese television networks. The broadcasts were also being transmitted to the European Broadcasting Union, which centralizes all of Europe’s national stations.
■ THE FORTUITOUS signing some weeks ago of a student exchange agreement between the University of Haifa’s International School and Elon University in South Carolina enabled five Elon students who had just arrived in Cairo on an international exchange program to remain in the region. They escaped the riots in Egypt to the safety of the University of Haifa.
“Until just a few days ago, I never thought I’d find myself in Israel. Now I am happy to be in a safe and friendly place like this,” said Rachael Borowy.
The exchange program was supposed to begin in October. But when the unrest in Egypt broke out, Elon’s management turned to the University of Haifa with an urgent request to take in five of its students who only days earlier had begun their semester at the American University in Cairo. The response was positive and the students, who arrived on Sunday, were given rooms in the dorms and over the next few days will become fully integrated into the campus before they begin their semester studies here.
“The American University in Egypt is located on an island on the Nile, so at first we didn’t hear or see anything. But it wasn’t long before we started hearing gunshots and smelling the tear gas. A representative from the international program of the university in Cairo took us to his home on the shore of the Red Sea and from there we set out on our way to Israel,” said Jonathan Ordog.
“Our families were most worried of all and they urged us to get out of Egypt as quickly as possible. At first there were options like Lebanon or Jordan, but when they heard that Israel was an option, they preferred we come here. Once they knew we were on our way here, they were much calmer,” said Kate Donovan.
The students will complete their exchange program studies in Haifa regardless of the eventual outcome of the situation in Egypt.
■ ISRAEL DOES not want to attack Iran, but if the international community fails to stop it from achieving nuclear capability, it may have no other alternative. That was the message delivered by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ya’acov Amidror to more than 50 ambassadors and senior diplomats attending Bar-Ilan University’s fifth Ambassadors’ Forum. Amidror stressed that Israel is considering every non-military option in dealing with the Iranian threat.
Amidror, who served primarily in intelligence for 36 years and is currently vice president of the Lander Institute Academic Center, said that he was among those who think that the capabilities of Iran are less than what has been described, but acknowledged that Iran does have hundreds of missiles and Hizbullah.
■ LOCAL FOLLOWERS of Rabbi David Twersky, generally known in hassidic circles as the Skverer Rebbe, were very excited last week when he paid his first visit in five years. Twersky, who lives in New Square, New York, is the son-in-law of the Viznitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager of Bnai Brak, whose elder daughter Chana he married 52 years ago. The Viznitzer Rebbe has been in ill health for some years, but last week his condition deteriorated, and his son-in-law felt the need to be with him. When Twersky made it known he was coming, a large number of his disciples decided to come with him.
He was welcomed at Ben-Gurion Airport by Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman and outgoing MK Menahem Porush.
During his stay he paid a series of courtesy calls on some of the leading rabbis in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem. He was also received with great fanfare in Beit Shemesh, where he inaugurated a new Skverer neighborhood that will become the permanent home for Skverer Hassidim. Some 80 Skverer families currently reside in Beit Shemesh. Among those attending the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone were Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul and his deputy David Weiner.
■ CONSIDERING THAT no Knesset Speaker has been a member of the religious camp, it is highly unlikely that a prayer service was held in his office prior to last week. Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin, the coalition whip, had a meeting scheduled with Speaker Reuven Rivlin and apologized that it would have to be cut short because he had to go to synagogue to recite afternoon prayers. Elkin is in mourning, and is very meticulous about attending services. Rivlin promised that if he stayed until the end of the meeting, he would arrange a minyan for him, so that he could keep both his political and religious obligations.
Sure enough, at the end of the meeting several MKs, accompanied by some of their aides, wandered into Rivlin’s office, and in no time at all there were more than 10 men. As far as Rivlin is aware, this was the first prayer meeting in the Speaker’s office.