Grapevine: Galas galore

Most of the 1,000-plus guests were leading figures in law, academia, politics, business and philanthropy.

dan meridor 224.88 (photo credit: Knesset Web site)
dan meridor 224.88
(photo credit: Knesset Web site)
"You're going to need another notebook," Jonathan Dekel-Chen, director of the Hebrew University's Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and East European Jewry, told this reporter. This was at the reception preceding the gala tribute dinner organized by the Israel Friends of the Hebrew University for eminent lawyer Yigal Arnon - an alumnus of the university's first law degree course and the first Israeli-born chairman of the university's Board of Governors - who next month celebrates his 76th birthday. Most of the 1,000-plus guests were leading figures in law, academia, politics, business and philanthropy. A good many of them - such as Finance Minister Ehud Olmert and former interior minister Aryeh Deri - had been his clients. In the 320-page souvenir tribute book, filled with notes of appreciation and a photographic record of Arnon's life, there was a very touching letter from Deri, whom Arnon had defended free of charge in the final stages of the corruption case against him. In expressing his esteem and affection, Deri wrote: "It is my clear obligation to thank and acknowledge the person who stood by me in my most difficult hours and devoted many months, days and nights with great talent, goodwill and commitment - all on a voluntary basis." In the letter, Deri confessed that he often thought to himself what the outcome would have been - and how different everything would have looked - had Arnon represented him right from the start. Olmert, who was successfully defended by Arnon, told the assembled guests: "If you're in trouble, it's good to have a friend like Yigal Arnon. Believe me. I know what I'm talking about." Several speakers noted that Arnon does not defend his clients, he defends justice - which is one of the reasons, according to Bar Association Chairman Dr. Shlomo Cohen, that he agreed to head a program called "Reward of Mitzvah," a pro bono operation with 24 nation-wide branches serviced by 1500 attorneys, including all 153 lawyers in Arnon's offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. These 153 lawyers also contributed NIS 1,000,000 to Reward of Mitzvah. Arnon, who grew up in abject poverty, is particularly sensitive to the project, believing that many innocent people are denied justice because they can't afford legal fees. President Moshe Katsav disclosed that Arnon could have been a government minister, but chose not to be. Similarly, former Shin Bet chief Yaacov Perry revealed that Yitzhak Rabin had wanted to appoint Arnon to the position of attorney general - and he had declined. After more than a dozen speakers had spoken of his roots - his ancestors Leluw Hassidim came to Eretz Israel in 1850 - his role in the War of Independence, his business acumen and his contribution to the national economy, his integrity as a lawyer, his active concern for the disadvantaged sectors of society, his devotion to his family, his commitment to the university and his remarkable fund-raising achievements on its behalf, it was Arnon's turn to speak. He enjoyed the accolades, he admitted, and he would have been quite happy for them to continue further into the night, but the message that he wanted to convey was that he already had more money than he knew what to do with. This gave him the freedom to channel his energies towards the needs of the less fortunate, especially in enabling them to receive an education and to have proper legal representation. One of the highlights of the evening for Arnon was the announcement by HU President Prof. Menachem Megidor that an area of the campus on Mount Scopus has been named Yigal Arnon Square. At a reception hosted at the Hebrew University by Swedish Ambassador Robert Rydberg in honor of Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann, a female guest came up to Aumann and said: "My father was also a Nobel Prize winner, so I came to congratulate you." The woman was Emuna Yaron, the daughter of writer Shai Agnon, Israel's first Nobel laureate. Rydberg noted that last year's and this year's Nobel awards added proof that Israel has the best scientists in the world. Aumann thought that the prize of 500,000 Euros was a little excessive for people who can afford to butter their bread, and suggested that the money would be better used for scholarships or research. One of the benefits of being awarded a Nobel Prize, he said, was that people were suddenly taking notice of what he had to say. It was one thing to know how to make science, he observed, but it was another to know how to sell it. One wonders if MK Binyamin Netanyahu has seen the 2005 Israel Democracy Index (IDI) that was presented by the Israel Democracy Institute at the opening at Beit Hanassi of the 10th anniversary commemorations for slain premier Yitzhak Rabin. Respondents were asked to follow a 10-point scale to express support and liking or rejection and hatred for a series of prime ministers. Netanyahu and Ehud Barak scored the highest equal number of rejection points, followed by Ariel Sharon. The least rejected was Menachem Begin. On the support and sympathy scale, the most popular prime minister by far was David Ben-Gurion, followed by Rabin and Begin. Sharon got a very low score, but was still ahead of Netanyahu, who was ahead of Barak. Shimon Peres was just one point behind Sharon. Although he has a reputation for being Mr. Nice Guy, former justice and finance minister Dan Meridor was nothing less than annoying during the Rabin memorial ceremony followed by the IDI conference on democracy at Beit Hanassi. He kept talking almost the whole time, even during the address of President Katsav. The only speaker for whom he displayed any courtesy was Supreme Court President Aharon Barak. After he had invested Rabbi David Rosen with a papal knighthood, Cardinal Walter Kasper turned to Rosen's family and told them not to get upset if he became a little bossy. He was after all a Knight Commander, which gave him the authority to command. At which point Rosen - indicating his wife, Sharon - said: "That's the commander of the commander." He was also introducing her as the "lady of the (k)night," but since his French title is Chevalier, which endows his partner with the title of Dame rather than Lady, Sharon Rosen laughingly corrected anyone who called her Lady Rosen. After all, according to the song, there is nothing like a dame. Rumors are surfacing that once he completes his seven-year period of tenure at the end of July, 2007, President Moshe Katsav will throw his cap back into the political ring and attempt to become the first person with president and prime minister listed on his CV. Early in his presidency, Katsav denied any such ambitions, saying that he would not return to politics. But he has kept his finger on the political pulse, and even though his current role is apolitical, he has commented frequently on political issues. Yitzhak Navon, Israel's fifth president, returned to the political arena after completing his presidential term and became education minister. One suspects that Katsav is aiming higher. Despite the ructions in the Knesset on Monday, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom took time out to attend the 184th anniversary celebrations of Costa Rica's Independence hosted at the King David Hotel by Ambassador Noemy Baruch. Having attended sufficient diplomatic events in which the sound system went awry, Baruch made sure to have a technician on hand to guarantee that nothing would go amiss during the speeches or the performance by a threepiece Costa Rican band. Costa Rica is one of only two embassies located in Jerusalem, and Baruch earned a rousing and sustained ovation as she related the "love story" between Costa Rica and Israel, the genesis of which began with the November, 1947 vote at the United Nations General Assembly. Then the two countries had an "engagement" cemented by consular relations and the subsequent "marriage" was the establishment of full diplomatic relations. But as in all marriages, relations waned for a while, and it seemed as if Costa Rica might become part of the general diplomatic exodus from Jerusalem. Indeed, from 1980-1982, the embassy was not in Jerusalem. Fortunately there was no divorce. Love triumphed, and the embassy of Costa Rica, in solidarity with Israel and out of respect for the right of a country to choose its own capital, returned to Jerusalem where the embassy had been located since 1963. Supporting a series of Costa Rican ambassadors over the years was Honorary Consul Jacob Allalouf, who is still on the side of the angels. Baruch singled him out for special recognition and warm words of appreciation. Absent from the line-up of performers at the upcoming Shlomo Carlebach memorial concert - marking the 11th anniversary of the demise of the Singing Rabbi, whose amazing outreach abilities brought so many lapsed Jews back into the fold - are Rabbi David Zeller, Ben Zion Solomon and his Sons and The Moshav Band. The reason: They will be in New York where they will be speaking and performing at the four-day Second International Carlebach Conference taking place November 17-20 under the title, "The Power of Music." Also speaking and performing during the conference will be Carlebach's highly talented daughter, Neshama Carlebach, who is an internationally acclaimed singer in her own right. Neshama perpetuates her father's songs but also performs others that are very much her own. The Carlebach family will be represented at the memorial concert in Jerusalem by Neshama's mother, Neila Carlebach. Traditional Carlebach performers in Jerusalem will include Yehuda Katz and his Reva L'Sheva band, Chaim Dovid Sarachnik and other popular Carlebach exponents. Katz, who traveled the world and shared concert platforms and synagogue benches with Carlebach, is responsible for the musical arrangements for the memorial concert at Binyanei Ha'Uma on Saturday, November 19. Interviewed on Israel Radio on Senior Citizen's Day, Shimon Peres, who is today competing to retain the Labor leadership, said that he gets up at 5:30 a.m., exercises, reads, eats breakfast and is off to work by 7:30. If he is hungry during the day, he eats a piece of fruit. His diet also consists of a lot of salads and leben. Peres attributed his good health and longevity not only to exercise, proper nutrition and a daily glass of wine, but also to an abiding curiosity in the world around him. Curiosity, he said, was the most important factor. Despite the fact that it is well represented in the highest echelons of Israeli society in almost every field of endeavor, the Moroccan community continues to suffer from an image problem and its members often feel the need to prove themselves or their forebears. Thus, Hebrew University law professor, former government minister and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Shimon Sheetrit, when addressing a gathering of Moroccans at Beit Hanassi, made the point that when the Biluim came to Israel they were greeted by Jews with names such as Amazalek, Chelouche and Amsalem - all of which stem from Morocco.