Grapevine: Multicultural harmony

Jerusalem mayor thanks cellist Yo Yo Ma for "playing in the closest place to God."

Yo Yo Ma 88 298 (photo credit: )
Yo Yo Ma 88 298
(photo credit: )
The Henry Crowne Hall at the Jerusalem Theater was packed recently as music lovers had come to hear famed cellist Yo Yo Ma play with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra under the baton of JSO director and principal conductor Leon Botstein. Those who had not heard him play before got more than they bargained for because Ma is not only a superb musician but an exuberant people person who flirts on stage with female violinists, embraces other musicians and blows kisses at the audience. The bond of affection between him and Botstein was almost tangible as they came out on stage before and after Ma performed. Botstein held up Ma's hand in the same manner as boxing referees hold up the hand of a prize fighter. The audience lapped it up and went completely wild over Ma's playing, initially giving him a crescendo of applause, then a standing ovation and finally a roar of approval. President Shimon Peres, whose back garden abuts the stairs leading to the entrance to the theater, came in for 10 minutes to the post-performance reception to meet Ma and Botstein. Congratulating Ma for an "unbelievable performance," Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said that by playing in Jerusalem he had played "in the closest place to God." Barkat also emphasized the significance that his administration is placing on culture. When Ma was called to the microphone, he was initially reluctant to say anything, protesting: "This is ridiculous. I don't talk." But then he did speak - and quite eloquently at that. What motivates him, he said, is friendship. He has a great admiration for Botstein, for his intellect and what he does in so many areas. When Ma heard from Botstein that there was an opportunity to play in Jerusalem, he couldn't resist. "Culture is there so that we can develop for ourselves and develop for others," said Ma. "The urge is to give because we receive so much." Generous in his praise for the JSO, Ma thanked the members of the orchestra for making the concert "such a joyous occasion." Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jun and US Ambassador James Cunningham were both on hand, each representing the countries to which Ma has strong cultural, emotional and national ties. The Chinese ambassador, a long-time admirer of Ma's, said he was very proud of him, especially because he himself was interested in music and is currently learning to play the piano. Responding to Barkat's statement about putting a priority on culture in Jerusalem, Zhao said: "I hope the culture you're promoting will serve as a bridge to bring peace to your beautiful country." "The great thing about my country is that we have so many people from other countries to enrich it and Yo Yo Ma is one of them," said Cunningham.
  • AT THE World Jewish Congress, when they talk of walking history the name that instantly springs to mind is that of Hella Moritz, who began working at the WJC 45 years ago with founding president Nahum Goldmann and went on to serve with Israel Singer and Edgar Bronfman, and more recently with Secretary-General Michael Schneider and President Ronald Lauder. Best known for her indefatigable spirit and remarkable linguistic talents, the Alsace-born Moritz, who speaks eight languages with mother-tongue fluency, is also known for her discretion. When a curious historian probed her for some tantalizing tidbits about Goldmann's romantic liaisons, Moritz did not betray her bon vivant boss, even though he was no longer in the land of the living. She politely and tactfully reminded her interlocutor that the word secretary derives from the word secret. The longest-serving employee of the WJC, Moritz was honored at the WJC's 13th plenary in Jerusalem last week, where at a gala dinner at the David Citadel Hotel, she was presented with a silver hanukkia as a symbol of the light that she has provided for the organization as a whole and for individual members over the years. Myriam Glikerman, another WJC veteran of the Paris office, spoke warmly and knowingly of Moritz and Laurence Weinbaum, of the WJC's Jerusalem affiliate, presented her with an ode that he had written. Moritz, who is often referred to as the "glue" holding the WJC together, received a standing and resounding ovation from some 500 guests from 60 countries. Moved to tears by the heartfelt outpouring of appreciation and affection, she was not the only one in the banquet hall whose eyes glistened and whose cheeks were damp. It was a grand way to applaud someone who was just doing her job - but doing it extraordinarily well.
  • PRIME MINISTERIAL hopefuls Binyamin Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak may have faced some pretty tough questions while on their respective campaign trails, but will now have to go through their fiercest ordeal when they face some 250 mayors who really understand economics and the problems of local authorities. The three will appear separately this coming Thursday at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque at a convention of heads of local authorities initiated by Shlomo Buhbut, the new chairman of the Union of Local Authorities who has been the bugbear of a succession of governments. The mayors all have burning issues on the economy, social welfare, education and transportation that they want addressed. According to Buhbut, the mayors are the ambassadors of the public and collectively represent some 7.5 million people.
  • 'JERUSALEM POST' columnist Isi Leibler, before making aliya, was president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the highest position in Australia's Jewish community. It was in that capacity that he was asked to speak at the opening of an exhibition at the Australian Embassy demonstrating how the Joint Distribution Committee, working closely with Australian Jewish welfare organizations, managed to get a large number of Holocaust survivors to Australia. Leibler was taken out of Europe by his mother, just in time to escape the Holocaust. With a reputation for telling the truth even when it hurts, Leibler, though appreciative of Australia taking in so many survivors, did not forget the kind of Australia they came to. It was not the role model for multiculturalism that it is today. It was racist. The notorious White Australia policy was in full force and migrants not of Anglo Celtic origin were denied entry or subjected to bizarre foreign language dictation tests as a pretext for rejecting them. The media were unabashedly anti-Semitic, recalled Leibler, and parliamentary debates reflected a chorus of demands that Australia not become a dumping ground for undesirable Jews. When Arthur Calwell became immigration minister, he was persuaded by some prominent Jewish financial backers of the Labor Party to allow Jewish refugees into Australia. He initially agreed to 3,000 on condition that the Jewish community pay all the costs involved. In this context, Leibler paid particular tribute to Leo Fink and his wife Mina, Polish Jews who had immigrated to Australia several years before the outbreak of the Second World War. The Finks were dedicated to the welfare of Jews not only in Australia but anywhere in the world. Leibler studied with their daughter Frieda at Melbourne University. She married Martin Freiberg and their son, Mark, is one of Israel's leading spokespeople, seen and heard on television around the globe. If the name doesn't ring a bell, it's because he's known in Israel as Mark Regev. The exhibition was the result of research by Sydney-based archival historian Suzanne Rutland, who together with curator Sarah Rood wrote a book which is an extension of the exhibition. Rutland, who introduced Leibler to the large gathering that comprised by and large Australians living in Israel, described Leibler as "a diplomat without portfolio" and credited him with being instrumental in securing the recognition of Israel by India and China. Australian Ambassador James Larsen, in acknowledging the work of the Joint, noted that the Jews whom the organization had helped to reach Australia had been able to fulfill their potential and had made outstanding contributions to business and the arts. Solly Kaplinski, executive director of overseas Joint ventures at the JDC Jerusalem, said that it remains as active as ever in many countries around the world, especially those in the former Soviet Union.
  • SOME 14 years have passed since then president and Israel Air Force veteran Ezer Weizmann advised South African immigrant Alice Miller, who wanted to be a combat pilot in the IAF, that she would be better off sitting at home and darning socks. In those days, the anti-feminist and totally sexist slogan in Hebrew was Hatovim letayis; hatovot letayisim, which in rough translation means "the best guys to the air force, and the best girls to the pilots." Miller eventually took her case to court and won, but she did not realize her dream. Although she passed her entrance exam, she failed her medical test. Nonetheless, she did pave the way for other young women who wanted to fly combat planes. Roni, the granddaughter of Antek Zuckerman, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and a founder of Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot where Roni was raised, is credited with being Israel's first woman fighter pilot, but in fact that's not quite true. The late Yael Rom, who earned her wings in 1951, flew the lead plane in a formation over the Mitla Pass at the beginning of the Sinai campaign. She was then a 29- year-old reservist. According to a Maariv report this week, until 2007 only 19 women had passed the combat pilot's course. But last week, when the IAF held a recruitment gathering, 500 young women applied for the course - an unprecedented figure. Only 30 of them will eventually be accepted, but in future years the numbers are bound to grow. In the IAF, women have not only broken through the glass ceiling, they've hit the sky.
  • WHEN HER husband Karlis was serving as Latvia's ambassador to Israel prior to his current posting to Estonia, Inara Eihenbauma was highly involved in promoting Latvia's image and encouraging women in the Diplomatic Spouses Club, which she headed from 2006-2008 and the International Women's Club, of which she was a board member, to become involved in charitable enterprises in Israel, especially those that also benefitted Arab children and needy Arab families. Acutely conscious of social welfare needs, the charming and highly intelligent Eihenbauma championed a number of causes and encouraged all her many friends to support them in one way or another. In this endeavor she also contributed to Latvia's image by being in the forefront of concern. This did not go unnoticed in her home country and on January 27, as part of the events honouring the day of Latvia's international recognition de jure, the country's Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins, awarded her the Certificate of Commendation for significant contribution to the strengthening of the Republic of Latvia in Israel.
  • THIRD TIME lucky? Mizrahi Tefahot chairman and former head of the Shin Bet Ya'akov Perry is tying the knot for the third time. Perry and his significant other, Osnat Berkowitz, plan to get together under the bridal canopy in a few weeks time.
  • ISRAEL TELEVISION'S Channel One foreign news editor Oren Nahari, who also contributes to foreign news on Israel Radio, is one of those people who gives additional expression to what he says by talking with his hands, especially his left hand, which now bears a wide wedding band. Nahari was married last month to Vered Ariel at the Hamam in Jaffa.
  • IF YOU ask the politically aware of the significance of February 10, they'll tell you it's Election Day. But the date has even greater significance in some respects in that it marks the 26th anniversary of the assassination of Emil Greenzweig, a peace activist who was among the leaders of a Peace Now demonstration outside the Prime Minister's Office. Greenzweig was killed on February 10, 1983 by a grenade thrown by Yona Avrushmi, who was participating in a right-wing demonstration that was also positioned outside the Prime Minister's Office. It was the first political murder since the establishment of the State. Avrushmi, who was sentenced to a 27 year prison term, applied for early release in 2005, but was denied. He is due to be released in 2010. In an interview that he gave some years ago to Haim Yavin, Avrushmi claimed that he had been brain-washed.
  • THIS WILL be the first general election in some 40 years that will not be anchored by Yavin. That doesn't mean that he won't be broadcasting. However, he will switch both roles and channels. Instead of Channel One, he'll be appearing on Channel Two, and instead of being anchor, he'll be one of the commentators in the studio.
  • AT A conference at the Hebrew University on American Mediation in the Israeli-Arab Conflict, Dr. Scott Lusensky, of the United States Institute of Peace, told a story or two about Sam Lewis, a former US ambassador to Israel, who served here for eight years after arriving at the onset of the Begin administration. Lusensky, who flew to Israel with Lewis for the conference, was pulled aside by an immigration officer. It had never happened to him in 35 previous visits, and it was somewhat unnerving. Then he had a brainwave and told the officer that he was with former US ambassador Samuel Lewis. "Samuel Lewis?" was the response. The officer nodded and allowed Lusensky to go his way. Lusensky was reasonably sure that the man didn't have a clue who Lewis was, but the name resonates in Israel - and not only in Israel. At a reception that the Institute of Peace held for Lewis, former Bank of Israel governor Jacob Frankel said: "Sam Lewis not a real person. He's a concept." Lusensky suspected that the immigration officer at Ben Gurion Airport understood this.
  • THE HAGARA fashion house is in a bind because its regular presenter, Orly Levy, had given up being a model and a television hostess in favor of politics. Levy, who is the daughter of former foreign minister David Levy and the niece of the late Maxim Levy, a controversial MK and the fiery mayor of Lod. Levy is high on the Israel Beiteinu Knesset list and instead of adorning fashion catalogues, expects to be roaming the Knesset corridors in the near future. Meanwhile, Hagara CEO Malci Yazdi will be happy to take her back if she finds that politics are not really her cup of tea. Given her genes, that's not likely to happen.
  • OTHER KNESSET aspirants, Danny Ayalon, Israel Beiteinu, and Einat Wilf, Labor, are in high demand in English-speaking circles. After participating in The Jerusalem Post's election panel at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue on Saturday night to a packed house of 1,700 people - an event co-sponsered by the AACI and the AIAC - the two appeared the following evening at the Post's election forum in Tel Aviv, after having appeared at noon on Sunday at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem in another panel organized by the Government Press Office and The Israel Project. Among the other panelists at the Great Synagogue on Saturday night was Bennie Begin, Likud, who though brought up in a traditional Jewish home came with a bare head, while Nachman Shai, Kadima, who is secular, wore a kippa.
  • ALTHOUGH SHE turned 80 on the propitious date of November 29, which was also the 61st anniversary of the United Nations resolution on the partition of Palestine, former cabinet minister and Meretz founder Shulamit Aloni is still celebrating. Among the festivities was a meeting of her friends and admirers who gathered last Friday at Tzavta in Tel Aviv to see a documentary about her and to listen to a debate moderated by Ilana Dayan in which Aloni, together with prize-winning writers A.B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz participated.