Grapevine: Moroccan magic

Before he came to Israel, Amir's parents used to call him Armand.

HOW OLD is the Labor Party's new chairman? A television reporter who stated that Amir Peretz is 52 was corrected by the man himself and told that Peretz is in fact 54. However, in the short biographies of Knesset members that include their dates of birth, Peretz is listed as having been born on March 9, 1952, which would make him 53. (Now that elections are scheduled for March 7, we can guess what Peretz wants for his birthday.) Before he came to Israel, Amir's parents used to call him Armand. According to his Knesset bio, Peretz's formal education went no further than high school in Sderot, but that did not stand in the way of his being a member of the Council for Higher Education, a member of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and on a series of other Knesset committees. Those who can't let go of ethnic prejudice and declare unashamedly that the voters will never elect a Moroccan prime minister should remember that there has already been a half-Moroccan president - Yitzhak Navon - who later became education minister. Two Moroccans, David Levy and Shlomo Ben-Ami, have been foreign ministers - David Levy three times, in addition to being deputy prime minister with even greater frequency. Levy also served as immigration absorption minister and housing and construction minister. Meir Sheetrit was finance and justice minister, and is currently Transportation Minister. Shimon Sheetrit, a law professor, was economics and planning minister, science and technology minister and religious affairs minister. Aryeh Deri was interior minister, Nissim Dahan was health minister and Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz was internal affairs and immigration absorption minister. And that's just a short list. Let's not forget that Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar is also of Moroccan birth. So whoever doubts that a Moroccan can become prime minister will surely eat his words... IT'S NOT unlike taking coals to Newcastle. Artist Sali Ariel, whose favorite subject used to be horses, discovered Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv and felt compelled to commit it to canvas. The people running the Bauhaus Center in Tel Aviv liked it so much that they invited her to exhibit. Someone connected with the Fulda Museum in Germany saw the exhibit, fell in love with the paintings, and took copies back to Fulda, where the reaction was extremely positive. There's a certain irony in the fact that Tel Aviv Bauhaus is getting Ariel to Germany, where Bauhaus originated. If all goes well, she will be exhibiting in Fulda some time in 2006. ONCE THE most ardent and successful fundraiser for WIZO, which she headed for many years, WIZO Honorary Life President Raya Jaglom is pulling out all the stops to fight the organization, which has begun divesting itself of some of its properties, and in the process, some of its services. Currently at stake is the WIZO Parents Home that sits on a choice piece of real estate in Tel Aviv. Jaglom is not interested in how much the property is worth - what concerns her is that WIZO signed a contract with the residents which she says must be honored. She is also appalled that if the sale goes through, many people in the twilight of their lives will suddenly find themselves without a roof over their heads. What pains her almost as much is that the sale of the building will result in the destruction of its synagogue that she donated in memory of her father, who was murdered by thieves who broke into his Tel Aviv apartment. IT MAY not be polite to refer to a lady's age, but if it's a milestone birthday, it's on the verge of being permissible. Although their names are not linked and they stand at opposite extremes of the political divide, it would be interesting for Geula Cohen and Yaffa Yarkoni to get together on December 25, the day on which they both celebrate their 80th birthdays, to compare notes on what it was like growing up in the Yishuv before the War of Independence, and how life has evolved since. Two passionate women who have witnessed the same passage of history from very different vantage points would have some interesting things to say. Both are inspiring - Yarkoni is still belting it out at concerts, and Cohen, in addition to participating in a weekly radio program, runs the Uri Zvi Greenberg Institute. But then again, for a lot of Israelis, retirement is just a word in the dictionary. Avraham Shohat, 69, may have tendered his resignation to the Knesset, but last month he was elected as an independent director to the Board of Directors of Alon USA Energy. Bruria Avidan Barir, 66, for many years the deputy editor of La'isha, recently landed a contract for a new show on television, and there was a news item in Yediot Aharonot this week stating that Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom wants to appoint Gila Almagor to the position of cultural consul in New York. Almagor is 66. At this rate, retirement age will become obsolete, and people of advancing years will perhaps have to undergo some kind of test to ensure that they are still fit to perform their duties. Still, like Tennyson's perennial brook, they will go on forever. SPEAKING OF aging and not retiring, Shimon Peres, the master of quick recovery, fooled all those who forecast that his latest defeat at the polls would finally persuade him to step out of politics. Notwithstanding all the reports as to how devastated and angry he was by the blow, Peres continued with his schedule the following day and kept on doing so for the rest of the week. Chances are high that he will celebrate his 83rd birthday not only in Israel but also in the US. His good friend, former US president Bill Clinton, will surely invite him to his 60th birthday bash, just as Peres invited Clinton to his 80th. Peres was born on August 16, 1923, and Clinton on August 19, 1946. WHILE FORMER first daughter Chelsea Clinton was in Israel, The New York Times reported that a romance appears to be blossoming between Chelsea and long-time friend Marc Mezvinsky, a Goldman Sachs employee who has the distinction of being the son of two former members of Congress. Papa is former US Rep. Ed Mezvinsky (Democrat, Iowa) and mama is former US Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (Democrat, Pennsylvania). Now, if things get serious, will the wedding be in a church, a synagogue, or in an ecumenical setting? WHILE IT had been hoped that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would come to Israel for the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, he is still waiting for the right political moment. However, he did grant an interview to Yediot Aharonot's Smadar Peri, in which he recalled that Rabin used to telephone him and say: "Mr. President, we have a problem," to which Mubarak would respond: "Let's have lunch together." Mubarak described Rabin as a man of his word, a leader capable of making decisions at the right time, a statesman and a strategist who did not make boastful proclamations that he did not honor; if he made a decision, he made sure that it was implemented. Mubarak first met Rabin when the latter, as defense minister, came to Egypt. The two had a wide-ranging, two-hour tete-a-tete and formed a strong bond. Mubarak, remembering the night of Rabin's assassination, said he had been at home in Cairo watching television. He found it difficult to believe the images and the reports. "Did they really kill him? An instant and it was all over? Perhaps he was merely injured, as they had initially reported. They did say he was injured. But in my heart of hearts I knew he was dead." BACK IN Israel after a long absence is Elena Tarasova, the exceedingly popular wife of the Russian ambassador. When the couple was vacationing in Moscow some months ago, Tarasova's mother became seriously ill, and Tarasova stayed behind to help take care of her. Since her mother had a professional caregiver, there wasn't much left for Tarasova to do except worry - so she decided to do something constructive and redecorate the apartment that she and her husband will eventually return to. Overlooking Gorki Park, it is in a prime location, but is infinitely smaller than the triple-story home in Herzliya Pituah where the couple lives today. "It's tiny," says Tarasova. "It's only 73 square meters." But the cramped conditions are outweighed by the location. She had the place completely gutted, and the interior is now being rebuilt from scratch. Tarasova's interior decorator begged her not to bring in any cheap items of furniture or furnishings. She had envisaged a jewel of an apartment, and wanted her vision to remain intact. Tarasova promised, and it is an easy promise to keep, bearing in mind the space limitations. "We have to take every centimeter into account," she said.