THE MOST frustrating experience in the life of any journalist is to be fed a juicy piece of information off the record, or to be sworn to secrecy before the information is imparted. For more than a year now, this particular columnist has known that Tzipi Livni, the minister who holds the foreign affairs, justice and immigrant absorption portfolios, gets her own frustrations out of her system by banging the drums - literally. Livni, who happens among other things to be a jazz enthusiast, studies drums in Tel Aviv with David Rich, who has taught some of Israel's leading drummers. Someone who moves in Rich's circles let the cat out of the bag on condition of secrecy. But this week the secret became public property when Yediot Aharonot disclosed the minister's hobby. When a Yediot reporter tried to talk to her about it, Livni refused to discuss the matter, saying it was a private affair. Meanwhile, today - exactly a week before International Women's Day - Livni will be meeting in Vienna with her Austrian counterpart, Ursula Plassnik. Last month she met with her American counterpart, Condoleezza Rice. Women are breaking through the glass ceiling in greater numbers than before - but there's still a long way to go.
THE WORD is out that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is interested in purchasing a luxury apartment in a prestigious residential project in Jerusalem, adjacent to Independence Park. The apartment for which Bloomberg may decide to sign on the dotted line offers a broad panoramic view of the capital, including the Old City. The question is: If Bloomberg does buy the apartment, how often will he stay in it, and for what lengths of time?
Jerusalem has a number of luxury white elephants - ghost areas that are unoccupied for most of the year, but which get a small surge of life during Pessah, Rosh Hashana and Succot. An upscale residential complex which is quite close to the one that has captured Bloomberg's attention stands more than half empty for most of the year.
TO BE or not to be is no longer the question - at least not for actor Itay Tiran, who no longer has to worry about how to finance his continuing theater studies in London. Tiran, who starred in the Cameri Theater production of Hamlet, made such a positive impression on a particular member of the audience that she decided she wanted to have a hand in furthering his career. Philanthropist Shoshana Schreiber, who is also a member of the Friends of the Cameri Theater, lost no time in arranging a scholarship for Tiran which she presented to him recently at a moving ceremony in the Cameri Theater. Tiran said it was heart-warming to know that there were such good people who were ready to do so much toward advancing the quality of Israeli Theater. In addition to the scholarship, Schreiber gave Tiran the address and phone number of friends of hers in London - just in case he got lonely or had an emergency situation.
MERETZ-YAHAD chairman Yossi Beilin, in an address to The President's National Commission for the Examination of the Structure of the Government and the Electoral Systems in Israel, was opposed to changing Israel's form of government into a presidential system. Citing the American presidential system as one that should not be emulated, Beilin said that the president of the United States spends the first term in office working toward being elected for a second term, "and in the second term, before he can say 'Jack Robinson,' he's a lame duck."
NOW THAT people are living longer, it's no longer true that the world belongs to the young or that life begins at 40. Reduced birth rates and extended life spans are putting fresh focus on people in age groups once considered old. Advertisements and television commercials for retirement homes hone in on activity, and convey the message that these are fun places more like country clubs than somewhere to wait out the twilight years of life.
In preparation for an exhibition and convention on life beginning at 50 plus, organizers took a popularity poll related to people in this age group - primarily those in the entertainment industry. As is the case with every survey of this kind, respondents were given a set of names from which to choose their favorites. Had they been asked to name six men and six women whom they admire in this age group, the results may have been entirely different. The outright winner, polling 36 percent of the vote, was Gila Almagor, who is in her mid-sixties.
Coming in second, but first in the men's division with 26%, was Dudu Topaz, who will turn 60 this year.
Also included in the list was Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, who scored 17%, taking third place in the men's division and coming in fourth overall. In some respects, the survey was a little under the belt, because it included husband-andwife team Sassi Keshet and Yona Elian. He scored only 5%, coming in last in the men's division; she scored 23%, coming in second in the women's division.
STAYING YOUNG despite one's biological age is first and foremost a state of mind, combined with good genes; and if the genes aren't there, cosmetic surgery lends a helping hand. In the case of singer Josie Katz, the state of mind and the good genes are probably the reason why, at age 66, she manages to look around 40. Her turbulent marriage to singer, musician and composer Shmulik Kraus, frequently featured in gossip columns, ended in Katz's deciding that she'd had enough "humiliation" - at which point she took her two young sons and returned to America. There she met her second husband, who, after some good years together, was killed in a traffic accident. She eventually came back to Israel after having been away for a very long time, and resumed her career. Her almost unlined face, with its firm jawbone, in no way betrays her age, and her slim, agile body is like that of a much younger woman. She has made her peace with Kraus, who is now very ill, and they often have Shabbat lunch together.
AGE HAS not slowed down internationally acclaimed Israeli sculptor and experimental artist Yaacov Agam, best known for his optical and kinetic creations. At 77, Agam is working as vigorously as ever, engaged on several projects at a time, both in Israel and abroad.
In Israel, he is working on two projects to add color to the lives of people in the third age. He's designing a multi-hued fa ade for the Mediterranean Towers Saviyon Junction protected living residential project, which will inevitably turn the building into a local landmark; and he's in the process of completing the design for a new rainbow gate at the entrance to the Mediterranean Towers Nordiya Retirement Village.
Concurrent with these two projects, he's preparing a huge colored glass installation for the new Art District in Las Vegas. When Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman invited him to be part of the Art District, claiming that Las Vegas is changing its image from solely a casino city to one that has many other attractions, Agam enthusiastically agreed to be part of that development. Yet another project that promises to be one of the most fascinating of his creations is a kinetic statue based on computer communication. The original model will be housed in Jerusalem and linked by powerful modem to identical statues in New York, Washington, Paris, Moscow and parts of them elsewhere. Contrary to the usual "please do not touch" signs that so often accompany art exhibits, this particular work will encourage the public to touch, because every movement will set off other movements in other parts of the world. This aim of this literally hands-on form of art appreciation is to lead to greater public awareness of art, opines Agam. "Everyone will be a partner in an artistic genesis," he said.
AFTER TEN months of courtship, former Miss World, Linor Abergil, and NBA basketballer Sarunas Jasikevicius, popularly known as Saras, have announced their engagement. The two were introduced by a mutual friend when Jasikevicius - who now plays for the Indiana Pacers - was playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv. The relationship started as a rebound romance. Abergil, who had been closely linked with entertainer Zion Baruch, had separated from him, and the Lithuanian-born Jasikevicius had just broken up a highly publicized relationship with statuesque blonde model Lihi Alon. As time went on, love continued to blossom despite the geographic distance, when Jasikevicius, after two years in Israel, moved to the US. The two became frequent flyers, visiting each other at every opportunity, even if it was only for a day or two. The problem they face now is whether Jasikevicius is willing to convert to Judaism. Abergil comes from a close-knit, very traditional family who lives in Netanya and would love to see her married in a proper Jewish ceremony. Jasikevicius has frequently stated how much he would love to live in Israel and to play here again, so there is a possibility that he may start conversion classes. Abergil was crowned Miss World in 1999, only seven weeks after having undergone the trauma of being raped by her travel agent. Not only did she win the title of Miss World, but the respect of women around the globe who applauded her courage in coming forward to file charges against the rapist, who was subsequently convicted and sentenced to a long term in prison. Abergil became the inspiration for women who had previously been afraid to report that they had been sexually assaulted. Although she did get some flack for coming out openly and talking about her experience, in general she benefited, because she no longer had to worry about the secret being discovered by the media. In fact, it was at her initiative that a media ban on publication was lifted. She continued her career as a fashion model and also took up acting. She is currently appearing in Mikve, the controversial play about family purity and ritual baths.
CELEBRITY HAIR stylists Jacqueline and Avigdor Lichtenstein, who became celebrities in their own right through years of providing creative coiffures for top fashion models, stars of the entertainment industry and the upper echelons of the Israeli social set, initiated a breakfast meeting between former beauty queens and contestants in the upcoming Miss Israel contest to be held on March 21 at the Haifa Congress Center and broadcast live on Channel 2.
Among the former beauty queens was Rina Mor, who, in 1976, put Israel on the international beauty map when she was crowned Miss Universe. Mor shared memories of her experiences with the attractive young hopefuls and confessed that she'd been surprised by her win. She was still in the process of completing her compulsory military service, she said, and had really not expected the victory, which was not only a triumph for Israel, but something that completely changed her life. This year's Miss Israel contest will once again be moderated by Orna Datz, who seems to have etched a permanent niche for herself.
As for Jacqueline Lichtenstein, when she's not concentrating on hair, she takes groups of unmarried women to the tombs of the sages to pray for a husband. The popularity of the tours indicates that a little prayer can go a long way.
ISRAELI POP icon Zvika Pik, whose weekly Maestro reality show gives Channel 2 viewers more than a mere glimpse into his private life, is one of 11 contestants in the pre-Eurovision contest in which it will be determined who will represent Israel in Athens in May.
It's not the first time that the long-haired Pik has competed in pre-Eurovision, both as a singer and as a song-writer for others. In 1998, his song, Diva, helped Dana International win the Eurovision Song Festival. In 2002, Sarit Hadad, singing his composition, Let's Light a Candle, was not as fortunate as Dana International, even though the song spoke more to listeners' emotions than Diva.
Pik also wrote a song for Ukrainian Eurovision contestant Alexander Ponomarev for the 2003 Eurovision contest in Riga, Latvia. Ponomarev, one of the leading singers in the Ukraine, had approached him several months previously, and Pik, flattered by the request, composed the music for Hasta Lavista, with lyrics by Mirit Shem-Or.
THE WORST thing that could happen to a hostess is that she prepares a banquet and the guests don't arrive. On the other side of the coin, an organization can prepare everything necessary, including the hiring of special equipment for a lecture on a significant subject - and the guest speaker doesn't arrive. That's what happened last Saturday night at Jerusalem's Great Synagogue, where counterterrorism expert Yigal Carmon was scheduled to speak about "The Rise of Hamas and its Implications."
A fairly large gathering had assembled; it was almost 8 o'clock, the listed starting time for the lecture; and the speaker had not yet arrived. Anxious organizers made use of the telephone only to learn that Carmon had unexpectedly been called out of the country on what Great Synagogue chairman Asher Schapiro described as "a mission of national importance."
There were quite a few seasoned speakers in the audience who probably would have risen to the occasion had they been asked, but the powers-that-be preferred to call it a night.
AMONG INVITEES to this year's Jerusalem Film Festival is actor Jackie Chan, the star of popular martial arts movies. Chan, who has ardent fans all over the world, including in Israel, has yet to accept the invitation. If he does, meetings will be arranged for him with local film people, as well as representatives of the Ministry of Tourism, who hope to persuade him to become a goodwill ambassador for tourism to Israel.
EVER SINCE his appointment last month as Greek Catholic Archbishop of the Galilee, Archbishop Elias Shakur has been in high demand as an interviewee on the electronic media. News and current affairs anchors are delighted to be able to converse with the archbishop in Hebrew.
Shakur, 66, is the first Galilee-born archbishop in 300 years, and is familiar to senior members of the Israel Rabbinate, with whom he has been in dialogue for quite a long time. He was born in the village of Biram in the Upper Galilee. The date of his birth was somewhat propitious: November 29, which, in 1947, the day of his eighth birthday, was the date on which the United Nations voted for the partition of Palestine.
MENTION WAS made on this page last week that public relations consultant Anat Shor was a frontline runner for the position of communications adviser to President Moshe Katsav. Last Wednesday afternoon, Beit Hanassi released an announcement of her appointment, stating that she was replacing Ron Ben-Yishai, who had returned to journalism. That doesn't quite wash, because Ben-Yishai quit his job at Beit Hanassi in July, 2005, and Beit Hanassi spokeswoman Hagit Cohen, who was there before Ben-Yishai arrived on the scene and remained on the job after he left, has also been acting as communications adviser in the interim. Shor's salary may not demand an increase in the presidential budget, but the bottom line is that it's still coming out of the public purse.