Grapevine: Focus on women

The Indian ambassador's wie initiates a profiles project on Indian women in Israel and Yeshiva University honors the CHicken Lady.

singh 88 (photo credit: )
singh 88
(photo credit: )
WHEN SHE came to Israel almost three years ago, Dr. Maina Chowla Singh, the wife of the Indian Ambassador, was interested to find out about the integration of Indian women into the country. She went to university libraries and found nothing, even though the first Indian immigrants arrived in Israel in the early 1950s. So she decided to visit them in Dimona, Yeruham, Kiryat Ata and elsewhere to learn their stories. This was the beginning of a "profiles project" on Indian women in Israel. So far, she's received several essays and two books, and says she's greatly encouraged. At a reception at the Indian Embassy last week, Singh introduced the writers of the two books: Rebecca Yehezkiel, who wrote Of Muse and Memories and Sophie Judah, who authored a book of short stories, Dropped from Heaven, in which the plots are set in the India of her youth. Both women are members of the centuries-old Bene Israel, which initially had trouble gaining recognition in Israel, but in 1964, the Chief Rabbinate pronounced that they were halachically Jewish. Yehezkiel is also an artist whose works are full of Indian icons. The artwork is part of her private museum and hence the title of the book, she said, "because the root of museum is muse." Both received fine educations and came from families in which their fathers were employed in privileged jobs. Growing up among Hindus and Muslims, they never felt any sense of discrimination. On the contrary, there was a sense of harmony in the blending of their Jewish and Indian roots, or what Singh described as "a harmonious intertwining" of cultures. Both Yehezkiel and Judah made presentations that went down well with the audience and provoked several questions. The question that wasn't asked was what prompted them to come to Israel. But they answered it anyway. "We all make aliya for different reasons, but none of us [Indians] made aliya because of anti-Semitism," said Judah. AMONG THE people to be honored Wednesday evening at the Yeshiva University Colloquium in Jerusalem is Clara Hammer, 97, better known as the Chicken Lady. She earned the title quite a few years back when she started a small, personal, charitable enterprise that simply took wing. A retired teacher, she was in her butcher shop doing her Shabbat shopping, when a little girl came in and the butcher handed her a big bag of chicken scraps. "They must have a lot of cats," commented Hammer after the child had left. "No," said the butcher. "They're a big family who can't afford to buy a chicken. I give them the scraps every week so that they can make soup." Hammer was horrified and instructed the butcher to give the family a chicken every week and put it on her bill. The butcher told her about another family and another family, and the word got around, and others told her about families, and her chicken bill kept growing and growing until she really could no longer afford her charitable enterprise. But then the media got wind of her, and after a few stories had appeared in the press, she began receiving checks in the mail. Dozens of people wanted to become part of her chicken enterprise. It was especially appreciated by people of limited means who wanted to do something for someone else but couldn't afford to give out hundreds or thousand of shekels at a time. But they could certainly manage the cost of a chicken a week. With the extra money, Hammer began buying more chickens for families - literally hundreds of chickens a week. But from all the gifts she received from Israel and around the world, she had more money at her disposal than she needed for all the Jerusalem families who were receiving chickens each week. So she began searching out poor families beyond the capital and sending them cash or food packages on Jewish holidays. The more money that came in from good-hearted people, the further it went to feed the poor. The enterprise became so large that Hammer could no longer manage it alone and members of her family had to pitch in and help. Hammer sought no reward for what she was doing, but at YU they thought a little recognition wouldn't do her any harm. NUMEROUS WOMEN'S organizations in Israel recently celebrated International Women's Day, but perhaps the most meaningful celebration was at the International Women's Club panel discussion hosted by Rita Stegny, the wife of the Russian ambassador, where more than a score of nationalities were represented. The discussion was based on how to combine a career with family responsibilities. The panel comprised Israelis Dr. Efrat Rabinovitch, a scientist doing research in biochemistry at Tel Aviv University, and Sharon Rostdorf-Zamir, a well-known Israeli opera singer with an international career, along with Lithuanian Ambassador Asta Skaisgiryte, and the wife of the South African ambassador, Vuyo Gqiba. The moderator was Ella Gera, chair of the Israeli Women's Network, who quoted Plato: "If women are expected to do the same work as men, we should teach them the same things." Skaisgiryte described the position of women in her country, where, although they were given the vote as early as 1924 and laws exist to prevent any discrimination in political and social life, the reality is quite different. Only 10 percent of women in Lithuania are politically active, she said. This is due partly to the patriarchal society and the strong influence of the Catholic Church. Asked about her husband, who accompanied her to Israel, the ambassador explained that since her husband was a journalist who can continue to work in his profession here, he does not feel that he sacrificed his career for hers. Rostdorf-Zamir, whose husband was a lawyer when they met, said she warned him that being wed to a singer was being married to a voice, with all that that entails. During the first seven years of their married life, when she gave birth to two children, her career came first and her husband looked after the children. But after her husband finished his medical studies and she had a third child, it was her turn to devote herself to the baby and enable her husband to further his career. Luckily for her, her mother came to her help, but these past two years since the child was born, she has taken him wherever her career took her. Gqiba's message, which she pronounced dramatically several times, was "Long live the spirit of women!" Gqiba had been an active member of the ANC Youth Movement in South Africa, and had also been exiled from her country for a number of years until the end of apartheid blew in the revolutionary winds of political change. "Women are not born to be victims of oppression," she declared. "They are born to be workers, managers, organizers." She found that though life as a diplomat's wife has given her the opportunity to meet interesting people and spend time with her children, she needs to study and is now working towards a degree in security management. Efrat Rabinovitch, who is married to Professor Itamar Rabinovitch, former president of the University of Tel Aviv and a former Israel ambassador to the US, spoke very amusingly about her experiences as the wife of the ambassador. Her work in scientific research had not prepared her for the protocol and "rules" of diplomatic life. She said she had been fortunate to be able to continue some of her scientific work while performing her duties as an ambassador's wife. STRANGE THOUGH it may seem, Yaakov Kirschen, better known as Dry Bones the cartoonist, had never had a birthday celebration throughout his adult life. But when he was about to turn 70, his wife, the artist Sali Ariel, thought it was high time to rectify the matter. Kirschen, though very gregarious, was not too keen on the idea to start with, but was eventually won around. Although he is a favorite at other people's parties, and he's even better at the parties that he and his wife host at their own home, he was somewhat at a loss as to what he should be doing at his own birthday party. Perhaps he was just contemplating the onset of age, or the fact that several of his invitees had gone either to the opening concert of the Rubinstein Piano Competitions or to the Black and White Auction at the American International School. Nonetheless, some of the people closest to him were there, such as Hirsh Goodman, journalist, analyst and director of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Program on Information Strategy at the Jaffee Center, and his wife, New York Times correspondent Isabel Kershner, CBS correspondent Bob Simon, Michael Sternberg, the MFO director-general's representative in Israel, Eric Silver, correspondent for The Independent in London and his wife Bridget, Gedaliah Gurfein, a business colleague, and Rachel Neiman, journalist and advertising executive, who are all long-time friends. Others present included Israel Radio journalist Idele Ross and her husband, graphic artist Norman Slepkov, Miriam Ben Haim, who goes by the unofficial title of the foreign minister of Kfar Shmaryahu, and restaurateur Rena Pushkarna, whose totally unlined face belied the fact that she had celebrated her 50th birthday only a few days earlier. Of course, it wouldn't be a milestone birthday without any speeches. Kirschen recalled that as a child, whenever he was asked about where he'd been born, it embarrassed him to say that he was born at the Columbia Hospital for Women. But then, as he got older and he realized that his birthday coincided with International Women's Day, he was quite pleased about having been born in a women's hospital. Looking around, he said that there were two people who were now deceased whom he missed profoundly - radio broadcaster Bruno Wassertheil and journalist and author Robert Rosenberg, whose widow, Sylvia, was among the guests. Goodman, who has known Kirschen for half his life, described him as a perennial optimist about a million dollars around the corner, and a person with a fertile mind that was always coming up with new ideas. Sternberg invoked Gail Sheehy, the US "guruess" on ageing, and quoted from her book Passages, which looks at the ageing process decade by decade. In the 40s, he recalled, you reinvent yourself. In the 50s, you're biologically secure. "The 70s is the shortest chapter. What she gave as advice was, 'Keep breathing.'" From his own standpoint, Sternberg said of Kirschen: "He's an individual who's mastered every bit of hi tech so he could listen to old radio shows." Rachel and Abby, the oldest and youngest of his three daughters, prepared a wonderful photo album dating back to his babyhood, and kept calling him in the process for photoshop advice, making him an unknowing contributor to the project, which is a true piece of art. Their sister, Jenny, was unable to attend because she lives in New York. After the speeches, Kirschen sat in contemplative mood, trying to decide whether he should have a 75th birthday or wait till he's 80. The extremely dapper Lenny Maxwell, who is over 80 but doesn't look anywhere near his age, advised him to enjoy every birthday, and Silver, who has a couple of years to go towards his own 75th, advised Kirschen to definitely throw a party. "I'm going to have one," he said. Bridget Silver demurred, but since she loves parties, it's an almost certain bet that Silver's 75th birthday party will be an even bigger blast than his 70th. AMONG THE keen members of the Dry Bones fan club attending the party was Clarence Wagner, formerly of Bridges for Peace and now the CEO of Genesis Strategic Solutions International, which brings Christian business people to Israel to get them to invest or to buy Israeli products for distribution throughout the US. Kirschen is a great favorite with the Christian leadership, said Wagner. NOBEL PRIZE laureate Elie Wiesel, who will be one of the Independence Day beacon lighters this year, will also participate in a Nobel Prize winners conference at the Haifa Technion. This is an eventful year for Wiesel, who will also celebrate his 80th birthday and the 40th year of the struggle for Soviet Jewry, which was boosted by his best-selling book, Jews of Silence, published in 1966. AUSTRALIA WAS the first country in November, 1947 to vote yes on UN Resolution 181, calling for the Partition of Palestine, thus paving the way for the creation of the State of Israel. So it comes as no surprise that a bipartisan motion by the Australian Parliament, celebrating Israel's 60th anniversary will on Wednesday be introduced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and seconded by Opposition Leader Dr. Brendon Nelson. The two leaders are going ahead with the resolution, according to a source in the Australian Embassy, not withstanding fierce opposition by anti-Israel elements in Australia in general and anti-Zionist elements within the Jewish community. The fact that the bill is being introduced by a Labour prime minister represents the closing of a circle. It was a Labour prime minister, the late Ben Chifley, who was in office during that fateful vote at the UN, and was still in office when David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the sovereign State of Israel in May, 1948. Interestingly enough, there will be an additional closing of a circle on this year's Independence Day, which falls on May 8, which also happens to be VE Day, the day on which the Allied Forces formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany, and were thus able to declare victory in Europe. AN ISRAELI tourist fishing in northern Australia recently came close to being eaten by a giant crocodile. Novon Mashiah, 27, was working the South Alligator River in the Northern Territory when he saw a salt-water croc and asked his Israeli friend, Doron Aviguy, 22, who was in another boat, to photograph him, JTA reported. The result, splashed across Australian newspapers, showed the four-meter croc, jaws apart, leaping out of the water in an attempt to devour Mashiah. "I was shocked - the animal clearly wanted to kill me," Mashiah, from Tel Aviv, told the Northern Territory News. "One minute I was leaning over the boat teasing it for a picture. The next minute it burst out of the water with incredible speed... its jaws fully open. I was shaking." "I didn't realize that crocs were so aggressive," said Mashiah, who has a giant Star of David tattooed on his chest. CORDON BLEU. The two words alone already make the mouth water. For guests at the Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel and Towers, it was more than imagination last Thursday. They actually got to taste the mouth-watering, feather-light culinary creations of chef Bruno Stril, the amicable chief instructor of Cordon Bleu in Paris, who transmitted both his savoir-faire and some of the secrets of his cuisine to Sheraton excutive chef Charlie Fadida (the son of international prize-winning chef Eli Fadida) as well as to special guests who attended a special reception. Cordon Bleu has 30 schools in 15 countries and teaches around 20,000 students a year. AFTER PUBLISHING the magnificent and fully illuminated Golden Book of Psalms, which won so much praise in Israel and abroad, Susan Roth, who claims to be a descendant of King David (but can prove beyond doubt that she's the daughter of famed Yiddish actors Pesach Burstein and Lillian Lux and twin sister of internationally acclaimed actor Mike Burstein), has decided to expand into the fragrance market. This coming Thursday evening, she will launch her perfume, Kaballah. It will be interesting to see if it's purchased by Madonna.