Grapevine: Fighting the darkness by keeping the flame alive

Hanukka is almost upon us.

hannukiah 88 (photo credit: )
hannukiah 88
(photo credit: )
HANUKKA IS almost upon us, and for just over a week, those of us who light candles each night recall the miracles that saved the Jewish people from annihilation. Each night, as we add a candle, the light becomes more powerful against the darkness. This is particularly obvious in some religious neighborhoods where candles or oil wicks are placed in a glassed-in container outside the house, lighting up the whole street with their flames. Candle lighting is an important element in the teachings of Chabad. All over Israel, Chabad women and girls distribute candles on Fridays in the hope that the recipients will light them to welcome the Sabbath. The distribution has intensified since the murder in Mumbai of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg. On the Chabad website, (which in itself is a multi-faceted outreach vehicle), in the section pertaining to women, there is a photograph of a radiant Rivkah in her wedding gown, alongside which is the message: "Fight the Darkness - Keep Rivkah's Flame Alive with the lighting of yours." There is also a reminder that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson, taught his followers to defy darkness with light. Although it is not stated in the reminder, the Rebbe's call for Jewish women to light Sabbath candles employed the Chabad penchant for acronyms and was referred to as Neshek (weapon), the acronym for Nerot Shabbat Kodesh (holy Sabbath candles).
  • THERE ARE many good writers in Israel who despaired of ever being published - because for one thing they don't write in Hebrew, and for another they don't know how to go about finding an agent or making other contacts in the world of publishing. But some of them found salvation with the creation of Anglo.Lit, the brainchild of Shelley Goldman, a former editor at both The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz. Goldman infected fellow editor Elana Shap, author Jeffrey Geri and his wife Wendy, a public relations specialist, with her enthusiasm, and thus Anglo-Lit came into being. Their first book of short stories, "Jane Doe Buys a Challah," was a cautious venture of only 1,000 copies - but they sold them all. However, they were unable to find an overseas distributor. Despite the disappointment, they went ahead with their plans for an even bigger book to celebrate Tel Aviv's centenary year which is on the immediate horizon. Meanwhile, Shap had a baby and dropped out of the partnership. Her place was taken by veteran editor Joanna Yehiel, who had a long career at the Post and Haaretz. Anglo-Lit's second publication, "Tel Aviv Short Stories," features 53 works of fiction by 37 writers, including Helen Kaye, whose name is familiar to Post readers through her writings on the performing arts, as well as other talented writers such as Aliyana Traison, Ruth Abraham, Karen Alkalay-Gut, Ruth Beker, Diana Bletter, Tim Bugansky, David C. Muller, Gila Green, Jerome Mandel and Jude Hammond. The book will be launched this coming Friday, December 19, at Tel Aviv University.
  • SOME WRITERS, such as Ruth Beker, whose short story was the title for Anglo-Lit's first book, have additional skills and talents. Beker is currently participating in Inside Israel, a traveling exhibition of 180 works by 60 well-known and lesser-known Israeli photographers and artists, which was opened last Friday by Israel's Ambassador to China Amos Nadai at the Three Gorges Museum in Chongqing. The exhibition, which is the initiative of Iris Elhanani, presents a highly varied perspective of Israel, and is yet another means of marking Israel's 60th anniversary in China. It will travel around China throughout 2009. Its next stop is Harbin, where there was once a thriving Jewish community, including the forebears of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Among the participants in the exhibition are: Karen Gillerman-Harel Erez Ben Simon, Hana Barak Engel, Dubi Roman, Hana Sahar, Ziv Koren, Sally Maklef-Meshel , Michal Yehezkel, Aviram Valdman, Tuval Yairi, Leonid Grossman, Arnon Tousia-Cohen and Shai Ginott.
  • FOR THE past six months the Embassy of Peru has been without an ambassador or a consul general, and the burden of work has fallen on the shoulders of ever-smiling Gonzalo Voto Bernales, who carries three different business cards, depending on the nature of his work at any given time. One business card designates him as Deputy Head of Mission, another as Charge d'Affaires and the third as Counsellor. To ensure the maintenance of the ambassador's residence in Herzliya Pituah, Bernales moved in there soon after the ambassador moved out, and took with him a valuable collection of timepieces that had belonged to deceased members of his family. Unfortunately there was a break-in and the watches were stolen. Thieves target many diplomatic residences, sometimes within days of the arrival of a new ambassador, and the police seem powerless to take preventive action. Over the last few weeks, Bernales was busy promoting tourism to and business investment in his country with two major events. However, what he promotes most is one of the world's most staple foods, the potato, which originated in Peru. 2008 was declared the International Year of the Potato by the United Nations General Assembly. The potato, which is thousands of years old and Peru's most important food crop, contributes to the livelihood of 600,000 Peruvians - so much so that May 30 is celebrated annually as the National Day of the Potato. Thousands of different varieties of potato are grown around the world and there are infinite ways in which to cook them. Bernales, whose preference is for the small yellow-hued potatoes, was surprised to learn that potatoes are an important part of Hanukka fare, and is looking forward to tasting potato pancakes next week.
  • AFTER ALMOST five years in Israel, Kenya's popular and highly articulate ambassador Felistas Vunoro Khayumbi is winding up her tour of duty. She combined her farewell with her country's 45th Independence Day celebrations at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv. Like many of her colleagues, she could barely make herself heard over the din. "Can I have just four of your minutes," she pleaded as she tried to get across her message of national self-actualization and strength, enforced by steady economic growth, the success of which she attributed to cooperation with other nations. She described Kenya's relations with Israel as "solid and comprehensive," with a potential for expansion, and said that it had been an honor to represent her country in Israel, and one of the most important positions in her life. Speaking in the name of the government, Isaac Herzog, Minister for Welfare and Social Services and Diaspora Affairs, praised Khayumbi's role in enhancing relations between Israel and Kenya and said that Israel wants to develop even closer ties in areas of climate change, environmental and economic issues. He also said that Israel would cherish forever the fact that Kenya stood by her in the difficult moments of 1976, during the planning and execution of the Entebbe rescue operation.
  • EVEN THOUGH his Kadima party had not yet conducted its primaries, Gideon Ezra, the Minister for Environmental Protection, managed to take time out from the campaign trail to come to the Japanese residence to attend the National Day Reception of Japan at which recently arrived American-born Ambassador Haruhisa Takeuchi celebrated the 75th birthday of Emperor Akihito (which actually falls on December 23) and the presentation of his own credentials at the beginning of the month. Takeuchi was proud of Japan's contribution to efforts to bring peace and stability to the region through its "Corridor for Peace and Prosperity" initiative, with the close and active cooperation of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. He also noted that Japan has been sending Ground Self Defense Force personnel to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force on the Golan Heights since 1996 and currently has a contingent of 45 soldiers engaged in peacekeeping operations with UNDOF. The volume of trade between Japan and Israel has been increasing appreciably from year to year, he noted, and the number of Japanese coming to Israel is also on the rise, with 11,000 registered by September of this year compared to 10,000 for the whole of 2007. During the brief period that he has been in Israel, Takeuchi was pleased to see the extent to which Israelis are attracted to Japanese culture. He also noted that Tokyo is vying with Chicago, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Olympics and expressed the hope that he could welcome Israeli athletes to Tokyo in eight years' time. Ezra, who is a former minister for tourism, also referred to the steady increase of tourism from Japan. At the end of the evening everyone was given a heavy paper tote bag crammed full of literature about Japanese companies that do business with Israel, as well as tourist information about affordable Japan.
  • IN THE course of his address, Takeuchi mentioned monumental sculptor Dani Karavan, who 10 years ago was the first Israeli to win a prestigious Japanese global arts prize. Karavan will feature next week not as a sculptor, but as the son of one of Tel Aviv-Jaffa's pioneer olive growers, when the TAJ olive tree route is launched. Karavan will share reminiscences of the olives of his childhood with many members of the diplomatic community who are expected to attend. Some of them already experienced the magic of Israel's southern olive route last week when they participated in a Negev tour jointly organized by the Protocol Department of the Foreign Ministry and the Keren Kayemet L'Israel Jewish National Fund. They were accompanied on the tour by the Foreign Ministry's Chief of Protocol Itzhak Eldan and director of the Protocol Department Nitza Raz, along with Effi Stenzler, chairman of the KKL-JNF. For most of the participants, the experience was a real eye-opener. Juan Barba, the deputy head of mission at the Spanish Embassy, confessed to Eldan that he thought that Andalusian olives were the best available until he tasted the olives in the Negev. Among the other participants were several ambassadors such as Tonin Gjuraj of Albania, Ivana Levi of Bosnia Herzegovina, Dimiter Tzantchev of Bulgaria, Juan Hurtado Cano of Colombia, Marica Matkovic of Croatia, Navtej Singh Sarna of India, Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene of Lithuania, Pajo Avirovikj of Macedonia, Baija Nath Thapalia of Nepal, Sam Dada Olisa of Nigeria, Wijekoon Mudiyanselage Senevirathna of Sri Lanka and some 40 others. All the ambassadors, including those who have not yet presented their credentials, planted trees in the Ambassadors' Forest in Nahal Karkor, and when each finishes his or her tour of duty, the Foreign Ministry will plant 18 trees in his or her name to give that ambassador a permanent connection with Israel. Eldan, who with the late Amin Hassan, who was director of the Israel Olive Board, was very active in promoting Israeli olives and olive oil products abroad, invited Hassan's son Talia Hassan to join the tour, and together they planted a tree in Amin Hassan's memory. The tour also included the Ramat Negev Research and Development Station at Ashalim, the magnificent Golda Park in the northern Negev highlands, and Kibbutz Revivim, which produces high quality olives despite brackish water irrigation. Every participant went home with a fresh insight into Israeli ingenuity, a warm sense of Israeli hospitality and a bottle of the best quality olive oil.
  • IT MAY have been because he led an Israel trade delegation to Australia last year and experienced the warmth of down under hospitality, or it may simply be that he is a man of his word. Either way, despite the fact that he had to attend an urgent Labor caucus last Thursday, National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer kept his pledge to the Israel, Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea Chamber of Commerce and showed up for the annual export awards ceremony, though understandably he was not able to stay to the end. In referring to the strong bonds of friendship between Israel and Australia, Ben-Eliezer noted that Australia's support for Israel was bipartisan, and in this context singled out two Australian politicians, who though no longer in government, have each been to Israel and have each spoken out for Israel at international forums. One is former prime minister John Howard, who earlier this month received an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University at a ceremony in Sydney, in recognition of his outstanding statesmanship and leading role on the world stage in promoting democracy and combating international terrorism; and the other is the former minister for foreign affairs Alexander Downer. Ben-Eliezer also made the point that since the current government led by Kevin Rudd came into office, top ranking Australian visitors to Israel have included Governor General Michael Jefferey and current Minister for Foreign Affairs Stephen Smith. There is a strong possibility that Rudd will come to Israel next year. Australian Ambassador James Larsen will not confirm or deny, but says that Canberra has instructed him not to have an official opening of the new premises of the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv "until something special happens." The "something special" would indicate the presence of a very important Australian dignitary. With the possible exception of Jefferey, none is more important than Rudd.
  • BEN ELIEZER also put in an appearance on behalf of the government at the Kazakhstan Independence Day Celebration and was presented with a fur trimmed hat and an ornately embroidered, fur trimmed Kazakh coat. He removed the hat, and was just about to shrug out of the coat when the first note of the Kazakhstan national anthem hit the air. Looking distinctly hot and bothered, Ben Eliezer bravely stood at attention until the anthems of both countries had been played, and then immediately gave the coat to one of his bodyguards. Both Ben Eliezer and Kazakhstan Ambassador Galym Orazbakov mentioned the upcoming visits of President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Israel and President Shimon Peres to Kazakhstan. Orazbakov also noted that Israel had been among the first countries to recognize Kazakhstan when it gained its independence on December 16, 1991, and described how Kazakhstan has since developed into a vibrant economy and has become one of the 50 most competitive countries, and most definitely a leader in Central Asia in introducing reforms and confidence building measures, especially in the domain of nuclear disarmament. Ben Eliezer noted that the exchange of high level delegations between the two countries was a sign of the good relations that exist and the desire to pursue them further. Guests at the reception were attracted to a section of the ballroom of the Dan Panorama that had been allocated to a traditional domed Kazakhstan tent made from honed tree branches and filled with household items, including a silver samovar. In 1963, a 25-year old Austrian came as a volunteer to Kibbutz Sarid in northern Israel where he picked apples and worked in the chicken coop. That volunteer was received in Jerusalem on Monday by a military honor guard when he arrived at Beit Hanassi in his present capacity as the President of his country. In the 45 years that have passed since his first visit, Heinz Fischer has been to Israel several times and has "followed developments closely and with great interest." In greeting him, President Shimon Peres said that aside from the formalities of the visit, he was happy to welcome an old friend whom he has known "since we were both Social Democrats" working together in the Socialist International.
  • THE NIGHTMARE of any dignitary is to be called on to make a formal address only to discover that he doesn't have the text of his speech. That's what happened to Peres at the State Dinner that he hosted for Fischer. Peres, who is used to speaking extemporaneously, remained unflappable and improvised while members of his staff scurried around to find a copy. When the text was finally placed in his hand, Peres remarked: "Oh, I'd almost finished." When Fischer approached the podium with his speech firmly clutched in both hands, he commented: "We were listening not to one speech by President Peres but to one-and-a-half speeches." One of the highlights of the evening was a performance by the Sarid Trio, whose founder Shlomo Bergner was born in Vienna and came as a child to Israel 70 years ago, thus escaping the Holocaust. After the performance, Fischer rushed across the room to embrace them and reminisce about the kibbutz. Members of the Protocol Division of Israel's Foreign Ministry said that they loved him because of his spontaneity and informality and would be happy to welcome him back to Israel any time.
  • EARLIER IN the day, Fischer's wife Margit, who is Jewish, was overcome with emotion during the presidential visit to Yad Vashem. Seeing her distress, Yona Bartal, the deputy director general of Beit Hanassi embraced her, and later bought her a book of Psalms, which brought forth another emotional reaction.
  • LAST YEAR, Yoram Dory, a long time advisor to and former spokesman for Peres, went to Vienna to look for the graves of his grandparents. Surprisingly, his grandmother, who died in 1943, had a proper Jewish funeral. His wife, who was nervous about going to Austria, agreed to go only if they could stay in a Jewish pension. Dory asked the woman running the facility how to find the house in which his father was born and raised. "It's just across the road," she told him. Locating the graves of his grandparents was just as easy. When he approached the Jewish burial society with the names of his grandparents, it took just a minute or two for him to get the information he was seeking. He found the graves and recited Kaddish. It was, he surmises, probably the first time in more than sixty years that anyone had said a prayer over those graves. This week he wondered what his grandparents would have thought to see him sitting less than a meter away from the President of Austria.
  • ANYONE SEEING Suzanna Gun de Hasenson, the ambassador of El Salvador at the dinner for Fischer, must have thought that someone at Beit Hanassi had mixed up their geography when compiling the invitation list. El Salvador is after all not part of Europe - and even if it were, only a handful of European ambassadors were invited. To anyone who asked, she explained that Henri Etoundi Essomba, the Dean of the diplomatic corps, was away. His deputy Noemy Baruch, the Ambassador of Costa Rica, was on home leave celebrating her marriage to Israeli journalist Shlomo Papirblatt - and Gun de Hasenson, was simply next in line.
  • GUSH SHALOM will celebrate the 85th birthday of controversial and ever energetic peace activist and journalist Uri Avnery this coming Sunday, December 21 with a morning party designed more for the intellect than the palate, at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, where between 8.30 a.m. and 12 noon there will be two debates. The first will be: Two States for Two People - Reality or Impossibility? The second will be: The Media: Serving the Public or Serving the Wealthy? The first debate will be moderated by former Haaretz editor David Landau with Gilead Sher and Israela Oron arguing in favor and Meron Benvenisti and Menahem Klein arguing against, after which Sheikh Abdullah Nimmer Darwish will present the solution from the Islamic perspective. The media debate will be moderated by Haim Yavin with Yaron Mizrahi and Ofer Shelach arguing that it serves the wealthy, and Rina Matzliach and Ron Ben Yishai defending it with the argument that it serves the public. Avnery will have the last word when he talks about how to build an influential left.
  • THERE WERE no less than three Israel ambassadors to Poland who were members of the Israel delegation attending an academic conference at Warsaw University on 'Poland-Israel, Today and Tomorrow: Politics, Society, Economy' that was organized by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, within the framework of the Polish Year in Israel 2008/2009, and financed by Poland's Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Israeli diplomats included current Ambassador David Peleg along with his immediate predecessor Szewach Weiss, a professor at Warsaw University and Mordechai Palzur, who was Israel's first ambassador to Poland following the re-establishment in 1990 of full diplomatic relations, which had been severed in 1967. Immediately following his return to Israel, Palzur attended another such conference in Jerusalem, this time on 'Confronting a New Reality: The Polish Catholic Church, the Jews, and Israel.' Palzur recently completed what was a long work in progress: a guide book to being a diplomat in Israel. A former chief of protocol and a veteran diplomat who has served in several countries, Palzur, his predecessors and successors have all learned that it is difficult for foreign diplomats stationed in Israel to understand that procedures and provisions in Israel are not exactly the same as in some other countries. Hence the guidebook, published by the Foreign Ministry. Current Chief of Protocol Itzhak Eldan, in the introduction to the book, pays to tribute to Palzur, who entered the Foreign Service in 1950 and studied law, international relations and political science. Eldan also commends Tsuriel Raphael from the Ministry's Language Services Department, for editing and producing the guide. Also involved were the entire team of the Protocol Department, the Consul Affairs Bureau and the Legal affairs Division of the Ministry.
  • THE COFFERS of the Prince of Wales have been enriched by a silver coin from Israel. Andrew Balcome, the chairman of the Zionist Federation of Britain and Ireland, sent birthday greetings last month to His Royal Highness on behalf of the Zionist Federation, and in addition to wishing Prince Charles health and happiness, enclosed a specially minted commemorative silver coin from Israel, which like HRH was marking its 60th birthday.