Grapevine: Paying a debt to the Druse

Sammy Ofer rights a wrong, a triple Bahai celebration and the Indian ambassador meets his readers.

WHERE THE state is derelict in its duty, private enterprise and philanthropy often come to the rescue. The heroism of Druse soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces is legendary, but somehow there doesn't seem to be sufficient appreciation for what they do or for the suffering of their families when they fall in the line of duty. Mega philanthropist Sammy Ofer, who has given millions of dollars to a multitude of causes, has decided that someone has to do the right thing by the Druse community, and he has taken it upon himself to right a wrong by contributing NIS1.5 million, part of which will be paid directly to bereaved Druse families, and part of which will be used to honor the memories of the fallen. Ofer made the decision after meeting with former MK Nasr Amal Nasr a Din, the chairman of the Druse division of Yad Labanim, when Ofer visited the Druse village of Daliat-al-Carmel some months ago. Ofer was all but moved to tears when he looked at the wall of portraits of the numerous Druse soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice while fighting against terrorism and in the wars of Israel. Nasr a Din has lost two sons in such battles, and in Operation Cast Lead he lost a grandson. In making his presentation to the Druse community, in the presence of three generations of his family and Nir Gilad, the CEO of the Israel Corporation in which the Ofer family has the controlling interest, Sammy Ofer recalled the strong connection between the Druse community on the Carmel and the Jews of Haifa during the Second World War when Ofer served with the British Navy and during Israel's War of Independence when Ofer served in Israel's fledgling Navy. SUGAT CEO David Franklin is a true sugar daddy. Sugat is one of Israel's major sugar suppliers, and because of Franklin's great love for classical music, has adopted Musicians of the Future, the students of a school established in the Galilee near Tiberias to encourage gifted child musicians to explore their potential. The founder of the school is world acclaimed violinist Maxim Vengerov who, a child prodigy himself, began playing the violin in his native Russia at age four. Vengerov is interested in children of all religious and ethnic backgrounds who have a feel and a flair for music. Tuition at his school is free of charge so that no talented child would be rejected because his or her parents were not in a position to pay tuition fees. Inspired by music throughout his childhood years, Vengerov wants to pass on that same inspiration to the children in his Migdal School. He also wants to expose the children to audiences around the country to help them develop greater confidence when they play, and also to make people of influence and affluence aware of the fact that by contributing to the school they are helping future cultural ambassadors of Israel to give the world a different perception of a country that is too often viewed through a negative prism. Vengerov took some of his young musicians along with their parents and school principal Anna Rozanovsky to the Red Sea International Music Festival at the Port of Eilat last week where members of the audience included Education Minister Yuli Tamir, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his wife Nili, Housing and Construction Minister Zeev Boim, Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fisher and his wife Rhoda, Leumi CEO Galia Maor, former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar, who is also a jazz enthusiast, dairy king Michael Strauss and hi-tech whiz Yehuda Zisapel. MANY ROADS led to Bank Hapoalim's headquarters in Tel Aviv last Friday, when plenty of Israel's business, entertainment and social Who's Who paid little heed to the relentless downpour and showed up for the annual art exhibition and sale to benefit the AIDS Task Force. By late afternoon, sales totaled in excess of NIS900,000. Amongst the many well known personalities who accepted the invitation of Bank Hapoalim chairman Danny Dankner and CEO Zvi Ziv to attend the tenth annual showing in the battle against AIDS were MK Avishay Braverman and his wife Yael, diamonds and real estate tycoon Lev Leviev, former El Al chairman Izzy Borovich and his wife Yael, Nestles chairman Dan Propper and his wife Susan, Arison Foundation CEO Jason Arison, whose mother Shari is the bank's chief shareholder, El Al CEO Haim Romano, Given Images chairman Israel Makov, Israel Corporation chairman Nir Gilad, Elem chairperson Nava Barak and Shalom Zinger, her significant other, who is President of AKIM, Dalia Rabin and her daughter Noa Ben Artzi, architect Ilan Pivco, fashion designer Raziela Gershon, comedienne Adi Ashkenazi, actor Lior Raz, actress and model Sandy Bar, actresses Anat Waxman, Maya Dagan and Cheli Goldberg, actor Yaniv Barak, Naftali Shpitzer, who found people with whom to network while his wife Tzipi Livni was meeting elsewhere with Binyamin Netanyahu and of course Yonatan Karni, head of the AIDS Task Force. The exhibition is always held on a Friday, includes an amazing collection of Israeli art and unfailingly attracts hundreds of people, many of them buyers. APROPOS TZIPI Livni, on Thursday of last week she decided to go shopping and chose to do so in the Ayalon Mall, which quickly became a sterile area as her security detail cleared other shoppers from her path. Shopkeepers had not been alerted in advance and some looked out to see why the crowds had suddenly disappeared. The manageress of the Hagara store quickly realized that Livni was the cause and called out behind her: "Be strong and of good courage." Livni apparently welcomed the words of support, turned back and went to the store to look at the bag rack. One of the customers in the store, who was there with her small son, advised Livni not to give in to Binyamin Netanyahu. Looking at the boy, Livni pledged, "I won't give in for the sake of the next generation." She didn't buy anything, but promised to come back when she had more time. If she stays in the opposition, Hagara might make a sale. IT WAS also raining heavily in Herzliya Pituah last Friday, but that did not stop members of the International Women's Club from converging on the Daniel Hotel to join Barbara Wisman in celebrating the Baha'i Intercalary Days and the World Heritage Inscription of the Baha'i Holy Places in Acre and Haifa. Not everyone read their invitations beyond the name of their hostess, the date and the venue. IWC members sometimes meet as often as five times a day for a variety of events, so figuring out what's what is sometimes confusing. Thus some came bearing gifts, thinking that either it was Wisman's birthday, or after close to a decade in Israel, she was going home to America. She assured them that it was neither, but it was a three-part celebration. Wisman and her husband Kern are the only two members of the Baha'i community in Jerusalem. The rest are in Haifa, the home of the Baha'i World Center. There are no Israelis among them. The reasons are twofold. One is that missionary work runs counter to Baha'i principles and the other is that in order to receive permission to tend its shrines, the Baha'i leadership had to give an undertaking that it would not preach its faith to Israelis, nor would it convert any Israelis who found their own path to Baha'i. The Baha'i calendar has 19 months of 19 days each, which leaves four days of Gregorian calendar year (five on a leap year) in which to party, give to the poor and exchange gifts with relatives and friends. Unlike Jews who fast before Purim and then have a feast, the Baha'is have lots of feasts in the intercalary period - and then they fast. One of the other two celebrations was the many friendships that Wisman has made in the IWC and the enormous hospitality she has experienced - so this was an opportunity to reciprocate. The third and most important celebration was the fact that the Baha'i shrines join a distinguished group of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 145 countries including Israel. Those in Israel are the Old City of Jerusalem, Masada, the Old City of Acre, the White City of Tel Aviv, the Biblical Tells of Megiddo, Hazor and Beersheba, the Negev Incense Route and now the Baha'i Holy Places that were inscribed last year. It was on the World Heritage sites in Israel that the luncheon was based. The centerpiece on each table was a large illustrated cube featuring one of the sites. At the door, guests dipped their hands into a basket that contained cards with miniature reproductions of the cubes, which signified the seating arrangements. When everyone was seated, Wisman ran a power point presentation featuring illustrations of some of the 878 sites worldwide and asked her guests to guess what they were. There was a prize for every correct answer. Some of the sites like the Taj Mahal in India were obvious, but others took a lot of guess work. Among the guests were Daniella Oren, Lucy Ramot, Tamar Nesher, Ann Kleinberg, noted cookbook author who has switched to writing novels, Daphne Josman, the IWC photographer, Esther Etoundi Essomba, Leslie Cunningham, Miriam Ben Haim, Yaffa Weinberg, Paulette Ben Haim, Jana Nosekova Zantovska, the wife of the Czech Ambassador, who is a professional photographer, and Sharyn Hylton Parker, the wife of the US Consul General, an accomplished actress who was a student at the Lee Strasberg School and played everything from Shakespeare to one-woman comedy shows. In fact, when she was five months pregnant she did a one woman show that took her to three European countries. The best sign of a successful event is that people are reluctant to leave. Long after lunch was over - not because there was no food, but because they just couldn't eat any more - the women lingered to chat. IN ITS weekly newsletter, the Jerusalem Great Synagogue includes a list of people in poor health or in captivity, such as Gilad Schalit, for whose well-being congregants are urged to pray. One name that has been constant for more than three years is that of Chaim Ariel ben Vera Devora (Ariel Sharon). In Jewish tradition, people are listed as offspring of their fathers except in cases of illness and despair when they are listed as offspring of their mothers. Had he not been in a coma, Ariel Sharon would have celebrated his 81st birthday last week. This was the fourth birthday that he has missed since his stroke in January, 2006. He's also missing out on welcoming new members to the family, including the grandchild on the way who will be the daughter of his son Gilad. IT'S NOT often that members of a book club get to meet the author of the book they've just been reading, or better still to hear the author read from his own work. Members of the book club of the International Women's Club were more than doubly fortunate. First of all, they got to read a book which they otherwise might not have chosen and thus enhanced their knowledge of life in a vast sub-continent and the political intrigues that were part and parcel of British rule. Then the author of the book read certain passages to them and they were entranced by the cadences in his voice which gave them a renewed sense of the rhythm in his writing and the throb of life of the people of his country. More important, perhaps, was that the author entertained them in his own home where a buffet meal had been set up for their enjoyment. The author in question was Navtej Sarna, who aside from being the son of a noted writer Mohinder Singh Sarna, also happens to be India's ambassador to Israel. His book "The Exile" is about Duleep Singh, the youngest of the acknowledged sons of Maharajah Ranjit Skingh of Punjab, one of India's greatest rulers who died in 1839, whereupon his vast empire was plunged into chaos. Sarna, who was also born in Punjab, tells the story of Duleep Singh and how he was tricked into signing away the kingdom and its treasures that included the famed Koh-i-nor diamond to the British. There was no one to guide him. Taken away from his mother, Singh was placed under British guardianship, converted to Christianity and transported to England to live the life of a British gentleman. However he was not exactly treated as a British gentleman and as he grew older, realization of how his legacy had disappeared dawned on him and he reverted to being a Sikh. Throughout his childhood and youth Navtej Sarna often heard the story of Duleep Singh and became fascinated by it. Some of the 20 or so women who attended his reading said that his style of reading and his voice really set the tone and the mood of the book for them, especially because there are many Indians who, though they have heard of Duleep Singh, are not really au fait with his story. Among those who were captivated by the reading were Indian artist Rajul Mehta, Priya Srivastava, the wife of the Indian Cultural Attache, Madhu Vayas, wife of the First Secretary at the Indian Embassy, artist Sali Ariel, IWC President Suzette Reyna and her immediate predecessor Jelena Isakov, the wife of the Serbian Ambassador. Also present was Mary Clare Adam, who has just been appointed Honorary Consul General for the Solomon Islands, though the appointment still has to be ratified by Israel's Foreign Ministry. It is unlikely that any obstacles will be put in her path as she was previously Honorary Consul for Papua and New Guinea, and still handles tourism for PNG. Much as it may surprise people, she said, there are a lot of Israelis traveling to PNG, and they used to call her at any time around the clock to ask her for a visa. KADIMA MK and former chairman of the Jewish Agency Zeev Bielski was given an emotional farewell by the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors last week at a reception at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem. When he ran in the Kadima primaries, Bielski had a feeling that his next career stop would be the Knesset, but it never hurts to take out a little insurance and so he took a leave of absence, which turned into a resignation only after the election results were announced. When he posed with Richard Pearlstone, chairman of the JAFI Board of Governors, and Jewish Agency director general Moshe Vigdor, Bielski was still an MK designate. A short time afterwards he became an MK proper. AS HAPPENS every time there are new elections or a new Knesset is inaugurated, the electronic media rehashes archive material related to gaffes by Knesset members or arguments between members of different parties which in no way serve as an example for civilized public discourse. It will be interesting to see what happens when Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman again crosses swords with the Arab factions. The Moldova-born Lieberman, after spending more than half his lifetime in Israel, still speaks Hebrew with a heavy Russian accent that has been mocked in the past by some Arab MKs. Now the Arabs have another piece of oral ammunition. Dr. Afo Agbaria. The new Hadash MK speaks, reads and writes Russian, and gave journalists an example of his fluency in the language, with no hint of an Arabic accent, when he addressed them after his party had met with President Peres during the period in which all 12 party factions responded to the President's invitation to meet with him before he decided on whom to confer the task of forming a government. POLITICAL PUNDITS are still forecasting that the new government, if and when it is formed, will not last for more than two years at the most. If that's the case, it is highly possible that former Shas leader Aryeh Deri will be back in office next time. The moral turpitude barrier which prevented him from running in the mayoral elections in Jerusalem will expire next year, and it would seem that Deri is already preparing for a return to politics. Last month he celebrated both his 50th birthday and the pidyan haben (redemption of the first born) of his grandson, who has been named for him. Among the guests were President Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, most of the ministers in the outgoing government and numerous past and present MKs. The big question revolves around Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and what future roles he will decide should be held by Deri and current Shas leader Eli Yishai. Since November, 1959, there has never been a Knesset without a member of the Porush family. Menachem Porush, who will celebrate his 93rd birthday next month, served consecutively from the fourth to the thirteenth Knesset. His son Meir has served from the 14th Knesset to the present time. Other current MKs who are second generation parliamentarians include Bennie Begin, son of Menachem Begin, Tzachi Hanegbi son of Geula Cohen, Isaac Herzog, son of Chaim Herzog, Uzi Landau, son of Haim Landau, Tzipi Livni, daughter of Eitan Livni and Dan Meridor son of Eliyahu Meridor. There were others in the past, and former MK Yael Dayan, who is now deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, still holds the record for being the only third generation parliamentarian. She is the granddaughter of Shmuel Dayan, who served in the first three Knessets, and the daughter of Moshe Dayan, who served in Knessets 4-10. She served in Knessets 13-15. SHE'S RUBBED shoulders with political leaders and with film stars. She has modeled for some of the world's leading designers. She has appeared in top of the line international fashion publications. She's invited to red carpet society affairs and tomorrow, Thursday, Israeli super model Bar Refaeli will get to meet a queen who will confer on her the prestigious Women's World Style Award. The event will take place in Vienna where Refaeli will receive the award from Queen Noor, who is a former recipient in the category of tolerance. The Women's World Awards are presented annually in 12 different categories to women whose extraordinary achievements have won global recognition. Refaeli, in addition to gracing the covers of glossy magazines and finding her name in numerous gossip columns, partially because of her close relationship with film icon Leonardo DiCaprio, has also been involved with a number of important causes. In conjunction with the awards, a Women's World Congress opens today at Vienna City Hall. The Congress will be presided over by Vienna's Deputy Mayor Renate Brauner. The Congress is being held in advance of but in conjunction with International Women's Day, which traditionally falls on March 8, which more or less coincides with Purim, which in a sense is a women's festival, given that it was Esther who saved the Jewish People from Haman. THURSDAY MUST be Israeli Women's Day in the World. Last Thursday, Israeli actress, producer and model Noa Tishby rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Later, she toured the trading floor, accompanied by her husband, Australian television personality Andrew Gunsberg. Most of the publicity for the event also made mention of the fact that Tishby is co-executive producer of HBO's "In Treatment." In fact, there was a huge HBO signboard where Tishby had to stand to perform her task. What wasn't said in the publicity was that she was wearing $50,000 worth of jewelry from the Tel Aviv headquartered Miller chain of stores, for which she is the presenter.