CONSPICUOUS BY their absence from the annual Independence Day reception at Beit Hanassi for former defense and deputy ministers, commanders, heroes and past presidents and prime ministers from 1948 to the present day, were former president Moshe Katsav and former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Katsav has not attended the event since leaving office. Olmert was there in the three previous years, but has been keeping a low profile since Binyamin Netanyahu became prime minister. Israel's fourth president Ephraim Katzir, who did come in previous years, may have been too frail on this occasion, but fifth president Yitzhak Navon was there with his wife Miri. Aura Herzog, the widow of Chaim Herzog, Israel's sixth president was also there, as was Reuma Weizman, the widow of Ezer Weizman, Israel's seventh president. Reuma Weizman had been seriously ill for a long time, but seems to have made a splendid recovery and looked to be in good health and spirits. The number of compliments she received made her positively glow with pleasure. "That's the reason I'm here," she said.
NAVON AND Netanyahu continued on to the International Jewish Bible Quiz, where Navon told Netanyahu that he had suggested to Ehud Olmert when the latter was prime minister that Independence Day celebrations also include a bible quiz for adults. Olmert had accepted the suggestion with enthusiasm, he said. To which Netanyahu responded that this was one decision of Olmert's that he would be happy to uphold.
WHAT MIGHT under other circumstances have been a routine bi-national event honoring a person of mutual importance to both Israel and Poland, turned out to be quite an emotional affair, because so many of the participants at the ceremony at Yad Leshiryon, the Armored Corps Memorial Site in Latrun, had if not dual loyalties, at least dual nostalgia. The occasion was the inauguration of the Berek Joselewicz stamp which is valued at NIS 6.10 in Israel and Zloty 3 in Poland. In 1794, Joselewicz, who was a horse trader, created a 500-strong Jewish cavalry regiment and joined the Kosciuszko uprising against the Russian occupation. Joselewicz's courage and heroism became so legendary that streets were named after him all over Poland. Maciej Jankowski, Undersecretary of State in Poland's Ministry of Infrastructure, noted the significance of honoring Joselewicz, because although Poles in general are well aware of the Jewish contribution to the arts, law, medicine and philosophy in their country, they don't tend to think of Jews as soldiers.
Nonetheless, some 130,000 Jews in various branches of the Polish armed forces fought against the Nazis during World War Two. Some of them now living in Israel showed up bemedaled and beribboned at the Joselewicz ceremony to prove that he had left a legacy. One of the reasons that the event became emotional was that Israel Postal company CEO Avi Hochman was born in Poland and is a dual national. Master of ceremonies, Israel Radio's Arie Golan was also born in Poland as was General (Res) Chaim Erez, the chairman of Yad Leshiryon. The degree of Polish sentiment in the auditorium was almost tangible, and became acutely evident when something went wrong with the sound system and instead of the Polish national anthem, there was prolonged dead silence. Sculptor Samuel Willenberg, one of the few survivors of Treblinka, started to sing the refrain of the anthem 'Jeszcze Polska nie zginela' (Poland is not yet lost), and almost immediately was joined by most other people in the hall who kept singing even when the loudspeaker finally worked.
Willenberg was in his native town of Czestochowa last month for the dedication of his impressive monument marking the mass grave of tens of thousands of Jews. The four-and-a-half meter high monument incorporates a brick fence such as those that surrounded houses in pre-war Poland. The fence has been deliberately and symbolically broken. Stretching across it are two genuine railway tracks which go nowhere, but transform themselves into a Star of David. The monument also contains the historical record of how the Jews came to be murdered there.
Willenberg has been invited to bring an exhibition of his works to Germany where they will be displayed in a large Protestant church which has an art gallery and which is very partial to showcasing exhibitions that are either by Jews or related to the Holocaust.
The event was also attended by Polish soldiers from the United Nations peacekeeping forces on the Golan Heights, who later in the day went to the residence of Polish Ambassador Agnieska Magdziak-Miszewska in Kfar Shmaryahu to prepare a Polish Constitution Day feast. It has been a long tradition for the feast to be prepared by the soldiers. The Polish Constitution, adopted in 1791, was the first liberal, democratic constitution in Europe, and the second in the world after that of the United States.
The ambassador read a message from Polish President Lech Kaczynski, and on his behalf conferred medals on four Jewish heroes who had fought with the Polish Army in the Second World War. One was Rabbi Pinchas Rosengarten, who had been a chaplain in Anders Army, but was unable to attend the ceremony. The other three, who already had a number of medals to their credit, were Pinchas Adler, who was a navigator in the Polish Air Force, Peretz Hochman and Samuel Gus.
Among the many guests congregated on the lawn was Piotr Puchta, the representative of the Republic of Poland to the Palestinian Authority, who was formerly a Counsellor at the Polish Embassy in Israel after having served previously in low ranking diplomatic positions under different ambassadors. He has been appointed Poland's next ambassador to Egypt.
A second generation diplomat, Puchta was born in Israel when his father was serving here prior to the long hiatus in the severance of diplomatic relations. The younger Puchta returned to Israel very soon after the renewal of diplomatic ties, and gradually moved up in the ranks. He has a son who was born in Jerusalem, so his ties with the region are very strong.
ALTHOUGH HE will be the third Pope to visit the Holy Land since the establishment of the State of Israel, the upcoming visit by Pope Benedict XVI is creating as much attention as it would if it was a first ever papal visit. It has been the source of debates and lectures, plus much speculation about political connotations given that it stretches over the Gregorian calendar date of Israel's Independence and what the Arab community mourns as Nakba, the day of dispossession. Tourism Minister Stas Miseshnikov bears government responsibility for the papal visit, and yesterday toured the sites in Jerusalem that will be visited by the pope. Previously he carried out a similar visit in Nazareth, where Shimon Mordi, the general manager of the Golden Crowne Hotel, has made every effort to set up a state-of-the-art media center. While people are speculating on the political undercurrents of the papal visit, more so now that the issue of sovereignty over Christian holy sites has again become headline news, Papal Nuncio Msgr Antonio Franco and President Shimon Peres have been valiantly insisting that it is strictly a religious pilgrimage in which the pope will be bringing a message of peace. Indeed, most of the events surrounding the visit are peace oriented.
ACHINOAM NINI, who in 1994 during a visit to Rome sang Ave Maria for an audience of 100,000 people including Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, will not be singing for Benedict XVI during his stay here. She and Mira Awad will be in Moscow to promote their own peace message at the Eurovision contest for which rehearsals began this week. The contest is attracting even more attention than the papal visit to the Holy Land. According to a Tass report, more than 2,000 journalists from different countries have received accreditation for the contest which will take place at the Olimpsky Concert Hall. Of the 42 competing countries, 25 will perform in the final show on May 16. At this stage, there is no telling whether Israel will be among the finalists. There will be semi-finals on May 12 and 14. Israel will be competing on May 12. Nini and Awad have said that they don't care if they are placed last, so long as they get their message across.
READERS WHO follow Middle East politics might be interested in reading one of the most recent books on the subject to come off the press, Aaron Klein's The Late Great State of Israel, published by WND Books. Klein, who reports for WorldNetDaily.com and The Jewish Press illustrates how Israel is sometimes its own worst enemy. He also dwells on the possibility that democracy - including Israel's - may soon become extinct in the region. Klein, whose previous book was Shmoozing with Terrorists, claims that the US is among those who fund and fuel Mideast terrorism. The book is available through Amazon.
MOST PEOPLE, including members of his own tribe, have never heard of Australian Aboriginal leader William Cooper, who in 1938, after learning of what had happened to the Jews of Germany on Kristallnacht, led an Aboriginal protest demonstration to the German Consulate in Melbourne calling for an end to the persecution of Jews. Given the fact that indigenous Australians had very few rights at that time, Cooper's concern for people of another faith and in another far-off country was remarkable.
"You would have thought that he had his hands full fighting for our people's rights and better conditions for them, but that's the kind of person he was," his grandson Alfred Turner, generally known as Uncle Boydy, told The Jerusalem Post last week. Turner and other members of his family were in Israel for the planting of 70 trees in the Martyrs Forest, near Beit Shemesh, to honor Cooper's humanity, which last year came to the attention of Israel's Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem. Deciding that such selflessness had to be rewarded, Rotem wasted little time getting in touch with the Jewish National Fund, which was pleased to cooperate.
As it happened, two JNF missions from Australia were in Israel at the same time as the Aboriginal group. A round trip ticket had been provided for Turner, and the fares of his relatives had been subsidized by various sources. All three groups got together in the Martyrs Forest, where Kevin Russell and Peter Ferguson, two of Turner's nephews, watered the saplings with water brought from the Murray River. They had also brought mud from the area to scatter around the newly planted trees so as to fuse their great grandfather's legacy with Israel's future.
Russell said that he'd found the visit to Israel "overwhelming." Turner and Russell, who are long time activists for Aboriginal rights, each expressed regret that not enough is known about William Cooper, with whom Turner spent part of his childhood.
Turner said it was high time that Copper's story was included in Australian school curricula. For Turner's daughter Leonie Drummond, the highlight of the visit was not so much the tree planting as going to Yad Vashem. "It had a big impact because of what my great grandfather did," she said. "It was history. It was very relevant to the reason that we came to Israel."
RED AND White are the Austrian national colors, and Red and White Clubbing is the name which Austrian Ambassador Michael Rendi gave to an organization of grandchildren of Austrian Holocaust survivors whom he invited to his residence last year for a night of networking and dancing. The experiment proved so successful that Rendi is repeating it on May 14. Last year, some 200 clubbers turned up. Rendi is expecting more this year. The basis for the club is bridge building between third generation survivors and the land of their grandparents. Rendi wants the younger generation to re-connect with Austria and to realize that it is a different country with different values. Incentives include lucky door prizes and quizzes in which the main prize is a round-trip ticket to Austria provided by Austrian Airlines.
IN THE international community, people are coming and going all the time, and it's difficult not only to remember who's who, but even to put a name to relatively familiar faces. The International Women's Club has come up with the most obvious, yet most brilliant, solution to the problem. Its latest membership list - which is quite extensive - includes mug shots of nearly all its members. Only a very small number did not submit headshots to be published alongside their names.
At the IWC, it's particularly important because its raison d'etre is to make its non-Israeli members feel welcome in Israel, and now the Israeli members can recognize the faces of the non-Israelis and vice versa. It just makes communication that much easier, especially for people who don't have 20/20 vision and can't read the name tags which IWC members usually wear at meetings. Some of the American organizations that bring groups to Israel print name tags in very large type, so that even people with vision impairments can read them without too much trouble. But knowing what someone looks like makes it even easier.
Among the Israelis on the IWC's 45-page list are Mary Clare Adam-Murvitz, Cheryl Akeselrad, Sara Alpert, Zahava Ankol, Hamutal Ansky, Shai Aran, Sali Ariel-Kirschen, Maria Aron-Rokah, Margo Aronson, Yael Artzi-Tishbi, Ilana As, Eva Meiberg Aviad, Liliane Avidor, Perla Azouri, Rita Bachar, Denise Bar-Aharon, Frances Barrow, Grace, Bartur, Peggy Barzilay, Ruth Beker, Esther Ben Efraim, Miriam Ben Haim, Lily Ben Isaac, Tzippy Ben-Sheffer, Rachel Ben Yohanan, Minette Berg, Sharon Berg-Ur, Eve Black, Pauline Borsuk, Louise Braverman, Melitta Broch, Linda Calderon, Simona Capasso, Elizabeth Cobo, Dina Czernobilsky, Tonia Dabbah, Linda Divon, Ronit Dotan, Michal Drenger, Joan Edery, Elise Einhorn, Adina Gottesman, Gillian Hart, Gaby Levin, Valerie Maxwell, Daniella Oren, Tamar Nesher, Bluma Persky, and literally dozens of others, several of whom know what it is to be a stranger in a strange land because they have been diplomats or the wives of diplomats or academics or business people or the wives of business people stationed abroad. Now that the vast majority of the members are more easily identifiable, it will help towards faster and closer relationships.
TRADITIONALLY, TRADE Unions and company management have a red rag to a bull relationship - but apparently not so at Bank Hapoalim, where Union chief Charlie Amzaleg persuaded workers to rally in support of chief shareholder Shari Arison, chairman Danny Dankner and new CEO Zion Keinan, whose lives are being made uncomfortable if not downright miserable by the Bank of Israel which wants to unseat both Dankner and Keinan. Although Dankner does not deal directly with the bank's employees, it is understood that he was anxious to avoid firing people, whereas former CEO Zvi Ziv, whose resignation towards the end of March was a major cause of the rift between the Bank of Israel and the top brass at Bank Hapoalim, was rumored to have wanted to cut down on expenditure through large scale dismissals. However the Bank's financial report, signed by both Ziv and Dankner, gives no indication that dismissals were being considered.
Some 500 Bank Hapoalim employees staged a protest demonstration outside the Bank of Israel on Monday, and on their return to Tel Aviv, a busload of employees rallied outside Bank Hapoalim's head office to show their support for Arison. Back in December 2002, when Bank Hapoalim announced that it was cutting its staff load by 900 workers, the bank's employers were singing a somewhat different tune.
CELEBRATED FILMmaker Amos Gitai is going to be busier than usual this month with the opening of a father-and-son exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum that tells the story of architecture and film as conveyed by the two media in which father and son expressed themselves. Gitai's late father Munio Weinraub was a Bauhaus trained architect who had a profound influence on the early architecture of the state, designing public buildings and private housing. He also designed buildings in the pre-state era and taught architecture at the Haifa Technion for some 20 years.
Amos Gitai was going to follow in his father's footsteps, but all that changed when, as a soldier in the Yom Kippur War, he made a documentary film of the crash of his helicopter that was shot down by a Syrian missile. This led to a career change which included a series of highly critical documentaries. In addition to the exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum, Gitai will premiere his new film Carmel in the cinema of the Tel Aviv Museum. Coincidentally, several other feature films that he has made are being shown this month in different parts of the world.