Grapevine: June is bustin' out all over

The Presidents Conference gets a new leader, the head of Jerusalem's "Mafia" turns 80, and Israel celebrates 15 years of ties with Kazakhstan.

'JUNE IS Bustin' Out All Over," wrote Rogers and Hammerstein. The song's theme could very well apply to Hadassah of America's national president, June Walker, who last week won the nomination for the next chairperson of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Organizations, an umbrella body for some 50 Jewish groups. She is due to take up her new position on June 1 and is the first woman to be nominated for the post since it was vacated in 1992 by Shoshana Cardin, who served a two-year term and was the first woman to hold the position. Walker, 73, who has been Hadassah national president since 2003 and a member of Hadassah for more than half a century, boasts that five generations of women in her family have been Hadassah members. Aside from Hadassah, which is her major passion, Walker has been actively involved in many spheres of Jewish communal life. She was chosen over several highly qualified candidates for the top job. n AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR James Larsen, half a dozen or so diplomatic colleagues, members of his staff and senior Australian and New Zealand army officers stationed in the region will have to get up extra early this morning to make the journey from Herzliya Pituah, Kfar Shmaryahu and Tel Aviv to the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery on Jerusalem's Mt. Scopus for the traditional ANZAC Day dawn ceremony marking the ill-fated landing in Gallipoli in 1915 by Australian and New Zealand troops who sustained heavy casualties. Although the majority of those buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery are British, there are also several fallen soldiers from the Antipodes, including some Jewish soldiers whose graves are marked with a Star of David.
  • IL CAPO de tutti Capi, Danny Angel, had come to Ma'aleh Ha'hamisha last Thursday to support la cosa nostra - namely Variety, the Israel branch of the international organization that cares for children with special needs which he helped to establish in 1967. However, as things turned out, the NIS 250-a-ticket fundraising event on behalf of Variety Jerusalem evolved into an 88th birthday party for Angel, whose business card designates him as the head of the "Mafia" - a word play transliteration of the Hebrew word for bakery (Ma'afiya). The Angel family owns one of Israel's largest bakeries, and this year is celebrating the enterprise's 80th anniversary. Singer Einat Sarouf, whose community-singing style always whips up a storm of enthusiasm, was the star attraction, but she arrived two hours late because she was caught in traffic en route from the Dead Sea where she had performed for soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. However, there was sufficiently good entertainment in the interim, and when she did eventually show up, she did Angel proud by serenading him in Ladino. The Angel family, which has multi-generational roots in the Holy Land, can trace its background to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and maintains its Sephardi heritage. Danny Angel is known not only for what he can do with the dough (in more ways than one), but also for his ability as a witty raconteur, and he delighted everyone with his tales about the trials and tribulations of getting the Jerusalem Variety complex off the ground. Among those who got a great kick out of his stories were Israel Variety president Udi Angel and director-general Rikki Ariel, Jerusalem City Councilman Nir Barkat, Subaru general manager Shimon Barzilai and his wife, Tzipi, Prof. Tamar Peretz, head of Hadassah's Sharett Institute of Oncology, Kenny Gardinger, the general manager of Israel Theaters, Palmach Ze'evi, the son of slain government minister Rehavam Ze'evi, and many others who were having such a good time that they simply did not want to go home.
  • GIVEN THAT the capital of Israel's diamond industry is Ramat Gan and that there is an upscale hotel in the immediate vicinity, one would imagine that the 5th Annual Meeting of the World Diamond Council, which is being hosted early next month by the Israel Diamond Industry, would take place in Ramat Gan. But it appears that the Israeli diamond dealers are more patriotic about their country's capital than leaders in other spheres of industry and they've decided to hold the WDC's two-day meeting in Jerusalem. Credit for this is due to the organizers of the prestigious event, WDC chairman Eli Izakoff, an Israeli living in New York, Israel Diamond Institute chairman Moti Ganz, Israel Diamond Exchange president Avi Paz and IDI director-general Eli Avidar. The glittering line-up of speakers at the WDC's annual meeting includes Gareth Penny, managing director, De Beers; Sergey Vibornov, president, Alrosa; Lev Leviev, chairman, Leviev Group of Companies, Ernie Blom, president, World Federation of Diamond Bourses; Jeff Fischer, president, International Diamond Manufacturers Association, and Gaetano Cavalieri, president, World Jewelry Confederation (CIBJO). Diamonds are proverbially a girl's best friend, and in some ways, it could also be said that they are Israel's best friend. n A CELEBRATION marking the 15th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and a country that was formerly part of the Soviet Union was held last week when Kazakhstan Ambassador Vadim Zverkov hosted a reception at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv. Zverkov noted that he was also celebrating the tenth anniversary of the opening of his country's embassy in Tel Aviv. In common with his two predecessors, Zverkov underscored that Israel was one of the first countries to recognize the newly independent Republic of Kazakhstan. Moreover, he added, Israeli business people helped Kazakhstan towards economic growth and Israeli rabbis came to Kazakhstan to advance religious dialogue. Zverkov predicted "a big future" in the continuing relations between the two countries, and commented that Kazakhstan sees Israel as the flagship of the regional economy. The reception was graced not with one government minister but three - Shimon Peres, Binyamin Ben Eliezer and Moldova-born Avigdor Lieberman, who had a long tete-a-tete with Moldovan Ambassador Larisa Miculet. However, Peres, as the senior statesman - or as Zverkov introduced him, "The world's legendary politician and big friend of Kazakhstan" - was the only one of the three invited to speak. Peres, who has visited Kazakhstan, spoke of the music and friendship "in every corner of the land" and said that he could think of no other country that offers so much friendship and goodwill, a factor that he attributed to the example set by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whom Peres admires not only for his wisdom and goodwill but also for his singing. Peres, who was in Kazakhstan in June last year to attend the summit meeting of the Conference on Interactions and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia that was founded by Nazarbayev, and which attracted many people "of great ideas," said that he had never seen such a gathering of so many leaders from so many countries, who were all brought together "by the singing Nazarbayev." The implication was that music can break through political and religious barriers. Much as he loves to sing, Nazarbayev, according to Peres, also believes that the future of Kazakhstan is in technology and science. Peres expressed the hope that in the next 15 years, ties between Israel and Kazakhstan would be further enriched and would become even more meaningful. During the singing of the Kazakhstan National anthem, Kazakhstan citizens, like those of the US, put their hands on their hearts, but in contrast to the American practice, their fingers are spread wide.
  • AMONG THE guests who had a very special interest in Kazakhstan was 28-year-old lawyer turned diplomat, Michal Shavit, who will take up her assignment as second in command at the Israel Embassy in Kazakhstan some time in the summer. Born in Azerbaijan, Shavit will have few language problems, and as far as networking goes, her film star looks will undoubtedly be an ice breaker.
  • THE LUNCHEON that Tel Aviv socialite and philanthropist Raya Jaglom hosted in one of the city's fashionable restaurants to introduce Margarita Stegniy, the wife of the recently installed Russian ambassador, to some of the influential women of the coastal plain, happened to coincide with Jaglom's birthday. Not wanting to rain on Stegniy's parade, Jaglom swore her daughter, jewelry designer and creator Nurit Jaglom to secrecy. Among the guests were Dalia Rabin, Yehudit Mosevics, who has been Jaglom's close friend for more than six decades, former Israeli ambassador to China Ora Namir, Rachel Dayan, the widow of Moshe Dayan, and Dame Shirley Porter - but none of them remembered the significance of the date, and of course those women among the guests who were not as closely connected simply didn't know. However, the wife of the previous Russian ambassador, Elena Tarasova, with whom Jaglom, a fluent Russian speaker, had an almost mother-daughter relationship, did not forget, and telephoned Jaglom from Moscow to wish her happy birthday and many happy returns.
  • WHENEVER FORMER US ambassador to Israel Sam Lewis returns to visit, whether with or without his wife, Sallie, he is invariably a house guest in the Kfar Shmaryahu home of Miriam Ben Haim. Last week was no exception - although there was a little temporary role changing. Ben Haim, who has one of the busiest social schedules in Israel, was a first-time guest at a gathering in someone else's house just an hour or two before the Lewises were due to arrive. As her hostess moved forward to greet her, she failed to warn her of an almost invisible step in the entrance hall. Ben Haim slipped, and would have had a very nasty fall, but for the fact that she is a former dancer who was taught how to instinctively break a fall. This saved her from damage to her face, but not to her ankle, which was severely sprained. She wanted to go home, but her daughter insisted on taking her to be medically examined and treated. So Ben Haim called a friend who has a key to her house, and asked her to house-sit till her guests arrived. The upshot was that instead of Ben Haim making a welcome cup of tea for Sallie Lewis, it was Lewis who made the cup of tea for her.
  • ON THE following day, Sallie Lewis was feted at a garden luncheon in the Herzliya Pituah home of Adina Gottesman, the former consul for Nepal, where she became reacquainted with several long-standing friends. Among the guests were sisters Ruth Dayan and Reuma Weizman (widow of Israel's seventh president, Ezer Weizman), who enjoyed each other's company the previous evening when they went to give moral support to Weizman's grandson in a school production of Hamlet. Lewis recalled the first time that she met the beautiful Gottesman, whose features have not been marred by time, some 30 years ago at a dance hosted by the Canadian ambassador. Sam Lewis had not yet presented his credentials, but had already been absorbed into the diplomatic community. Lewis also lamented her misfortune with cooks at the residence, and said that she could not remember having had a good one. However, the worst was a retired British jockey, who was the first cook she hired, and to whom she had given strict instructions regarding the menu for a dinner in honor of Leonard Bernstein. The maestro took a bite of the quiche and declared: "Sallie, there's bacon in the quiche." Furious and embarrassed, Lewis headed for the kitchen to give the cook a piece of her mind. "There's never to be any bacon in this kitchen," she thundered. The jockey-cum-cook told her that he could not make the quiche without it. Since it was her recipe, she knew that he could - and she fired him.
  • PEACE ACTIVIST Elana Rozenman, the local co-director of TRUST, a non-profit organization dedicated to building understanding and trust between Israelis and Palestinians, together with her husband Tzvi, recently invited friends and associates to their home to meet Dr. Mohamed Dajani, the director of the American Studies Institute at Al Quds University in Ramallah. A self-confessed former Fatah activist who spent several years in exile in America, Dajani said that when he was finally permitted to return home to Jerusalem in 1993, he still nurtured very hostile feelings towards the Israelis, especially since the first one he met was a soldier at the checkpoint on the bridge. In the US, he had taught Arabic at a university and there was an Israeli there who taught Hebrew, but they had nothing to do with each other. "To me, Israel was always the enemy," he said. However, once back in Jerusalem, Dajani began to meet with some of his father's Israeli friends, and gradually began to see them not as soldiers or enemies, but simply as people. He began to rethink his position and started working with peace organizations, promoting dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. Dajani recalled a meeting between 15 Israeli teachers and 15 Palestinian teachers he had helped to organize in 1999. "They were talking across each other and accusing each other," he said. "There was no dialogue." The problem with such meetings, he admitted is "that everyone wants the whole cake and has very small hope of getting it." To make that clear from the outset, Dajani has adopted the slogan "Big Dreamz Small Hope" with the intention of making the opposing parties realize that when people fight over something too aggressively, neither of them gets it. Part of the problem, he said, is that people live in the nostalgia of the past and make it the present and the future. Conflict, he continued, is "living the big dream. Peace is living the small hope." One of the challenges that Dajani confronts daily is the elimination of stereotyped images. "We look at each other and see what we want to believe - the stereotyped negative image." Despite the obstacles Dajani remains committed to the small hope for peace and the fostering of moderation on both sides. "We need to stop the blame game. There should be more tolerance and humanization of each other."
  • AN EXAMPLE of mutual admiration may be seen on May 10, when writers and academics Sari Nusseibeh and Amos Oz meet under the auspices of Seeds of Peace at the Jerusalem YMCA to discuss Nusseibeh's new book, "Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life."
  • IN HIS lifetime, the late Israel Isaacs, the founder of the Jerusalem Economic Forum, was able to attract scores of business people to the economic dialogues he conducted with the aim of boosting Jerusalem's economic growth. On the second anniversary of his death, Isaacs was still able to attract more than 200 friends and associates who crowded into the Beck Center in Har Hotzvim to listen to former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu pay tribute to him while simultaneously getting in an early campaign speech for the next Knesset elections. Like former minister for economics and planning Shimon Shetreet, Netanyahu spoke of how devoted Isaacs was to the concept of an economically flourishing Jerusalem. "Israel cared about Jerusalem's economy with his whole heart," said Netanyahu, who as finance minister had more than once addressed the JEF. If he returns to the role of prime minister, pledged Netanyahu, who is a resident of the capital, there are three things that he wants to do for Jerusalem. One is to give more incentives and tax breaks to anyone who wants to set up high-tech enterprises in Jerusalem; another is to encourage more Christian pilgrimage, especially among Evangelists who have declared themselves to be true friends of Israel; and the third is to make more land available for industrial, commercial and residential projects. Netanyahu recalled the intense criticism to which he was subjected, when as prime minister he gave the green light to the development of Har Homa. "But look where it is now," he said. Multi-faceted businesswoman Michal Isaacs, who worked alongside her husband to build up the JEF, pledged to continue the effort to make his dream a reality.
  • 'JERUSALEM POST' columnist Rabbi Berel Wein took himself a bride in the United States last Sunday and is bringing her to Jerusalem to live. Meanwhile, the Women's League of Beit Knesset Hanassi, where Wein is the spiritual mentor, are getting ready to roll out the red carpet for Rabbanit Mira Wein. They've organized a Shabbat afternoon tea in her honor on April 28, in a private home and for members of the congregation only.
  • WHILE THE media have been focusing on the French elections, an Israeli, according to a Ma'ariv report, is readying to contest possible presidential elections in Romania. Afula-born Nati Meir, 52, the son of Romanian parents who came on aliya in 1951, is already a member of the Romanian parliament, but is aiming for a more prestigious position now that Romanian President Traian Basecu has been suspended by parliament on grounds of abuse of power. If, in accordance with Romanian law, parliament calls for a referendum to remove Basecu from office following a 30-day suspension, Meir will be a candidate in the next elections even though his chances of winning may be slim. Basecu is extremely popular, and there is nothing to stop him from standing for election again, even if he loses the presidency for the time being. Meir has been living in Romania since 1996, has been a citizen since 1999 and has been a member of parliament since 2004.
  • IF THE celebrities are not there in person tomorrow night, at least they'll be displayed on the wall at the launch of the art gallery in the Wohl Center at Bar Ilan University. The opening exhibit at the gallery will be a photo exhibition by internationally renowned photographer Ilan Basor, who is showing 42 portraits of big names in the worlds of entertainment and fashion modeling. Among the personalities captured in his lens are: Aviv Gefen, Eyal Peled, Eyal Kitzis, Osnat Vishinski, Assaf Amdurski, Yoav Kutner, Yoni Rechter, Yael Goldman, Yaron London, Tsofit Grant, Rina Sheinfeld, Shlomit Aharoni and Shlomo Artzi. At least some of them are expected show up in the flesh.