Grapevine: Quite an honor

June Walker and Yitzhak Hofi receive honorary doctorates in Haifa, the wife of Pakistan's ambassador attends a celebration for Israel's 60th in New York.

June walker 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
June walker 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
nBEFORE SHE became chairperson of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, June Walker was national president of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America. Last week, when she was conferred with an honorary doctorate in philosophy by the University of Haifa, Hadassah representatives turned out in force to cheer her on. They included former national president Marlene Post, Hadassah Medical Center director-general Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef (who is reportedly considering running for mayor of Jerusalem), HMC senior physicians, heads of Hadassah Educational Institutions, Youth Aliya, the senior administration of the Hadassah office in Jerusalem, Young Judea and the Hadassah membership in Israel. But there was no one present from the Conference of Presidents, nor from the World Zionist Organization where Walker has sat on the executive for several years. This rather bad form on the part of two major organizations which Walker has served with strong commitment and continues to serve with distinction did not go unnoticed by the Hadassah people. nSOMETHING ELSE that did not go unnoticed was who did what at the end of the ceremony. Among the other recipients of honorary doctorates were Brother Yohanan Elihai, a Catholic priest who is a lexicographer of world renown and Rabbi Avraham Elimelech Firer, who without any formal studies in medicine, has acquired more know-how on a broad range of medical problems than almost any trained medical expert, and whose intervention has saved countless lives. At the close of the ceremony, everyone was asked to rise for the singing of Hatikva. The honorees were all on stage facing the audience. Elihai, the priest, sang the national anthem with great verve. But Firer, a native Israeli and Israel Prize laureate, refrained. nANOTHER CATHOLIC among the honorees whose life is inextricably linked with the Jewish people and the State of Israel was Wladislaw Bartoszewski, a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau, (from where he was released), a co-organizer of Zegota, the Council for Aid to Jews, and a fighter in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. One of his colleagues during the Second World War was Dr. Adolf Abraham Berman, a co-founder of Zegota who also worked on the Aryan side fighting against the Nazis. Berman's son, Emanuel, a professor of psychoanalysis at the University of Haifa, introduced Bartoszewski, who has been honored by other institutions and organizations in Israel as well as by Jewish organizations in the US. Bartoszewski, a former foreign minister of Poland, boasted that he was the only Polish foreign minister and indeed the only foreign minister outside of Israel who was also a citizen of the State of Israel. He has been an honorary citizen of Israel since 1991, and as far back as 1963 Yad Vashem declared him to be "Righteous among the Nations." Incidentally, at the conclusion of the ceremony, Bartoszewski, with typical Polish gallantry, kissed Walker's hand. nFORMER MOSSAD chief Yitzhak Hofi was also among the University of Haifa honorees. Prior to his appointment as the fifth head of Mossad, Hofi had a highly distinguished 26-year stint in the IDF. He joined the Hagana as an adolescent, served as a Palmach company commander during the War of Independence, and later filled other top commanding roles in the IDF until his retirement from the army in 1974. At the ceremony, Hofi quipped that even as a former head of an intelligence agency, he had no inkling that he had come up for consideration for an honorary doctorate. He was introduced by Efraim Halevy, the ninth director of Mossad, who called him "my illustrious commander and respected friend." Halevy also credited Hofi with paving the way for Israel's first peace treaty with Egypt. University of Haifa Rector, Prof. Yossi Ben-Artzi, who served under Hofi in the IDF, noted that he had established special battalions of paratroopers to search every possible track for soldiers missing in action, and would go to enormous lengths to prevent a missing soldier from being left in the field. From Mossad, Hofi went to the Israel Electric Corporation, where he served as CEO for eight years and subsequently served and continues to serve on boards of directors of companies, organizations and institutions. In recognition of his legendary contribution to the IEC, its current management has decided to establish scholarships in his name to be awarded to outstanding students at the University of Haifa, where he serves as a member of the Board of Governors after seven years as a member of the university's Executive Committee. nEVERY STREAM of Judaism tries to attract the non-affiliated, but the Reform Movement probably succeeds more because it has fewer restrictions, and because its programs include activities attractive to the secular community, such as the Shavuot concert of love songs performed at Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv by Anat Sarouf. While many representatives of the Orthodox stream of Judaism are negatively disposed to Reform Judaism, they might to do well to heed the words of the late rabbi Dr. Herman Sanger, the spiritual head of the Reform Movement in Melbourne, Australia. When attacked by the Orthodox for the degree of laxity then in practice long before the Reform Movement adopted more of the traditional aspects of religious observance, Sanger used to say: "The problem with you people is that you always see us as the last door on the way out, instead of the first door on the way back." In other words, any form of identification with Judaism is better than no identification at all. nWHEN OUTGOING Georgian Ambassador Lasha Zhvania presented his credentials to then President Moshe Katsav in June, 2005, he arrived at Beit Hanassi in his country's national costume, replete with daggers, head dress and boots. Solidly built at the time, he made a very impressive figure and immediately became a target for photographers. These days, he looks more svelte than solid, having shed 22 kilos before embarking on an election campaign that won him a seat in the Georgian parliament. Asked how he managed to achieve the weight loss, Zhvania replied that he simply made up his mind to eat the right foods and to exercise properly. Whenever he sets his mind on anything, he said, he always achieves his goal. nZHVANIA IS one of a relatively large group of ambassadors who are winding up their tours of duty in Israel. Bosnian Ambassador Nedeljko Maslesa has already left the country, while the ambassadors of Peru, Hungary, the US, Italy, Cyprus and Latvia are scheduled to leave within the next eight weeks, and other ambassadors will join the exodus in September and October. "Just as we really get to know them and remember their names," lamented an Israeli who is a frequent guest at diplomatic affairs, "they get up and leave, and then we have to remember new names." Latvian Ambassador Karlis Eihenbaums and his wife, Inara, who headed the Diplomatic Spuses Club, held their farewell party last week at the Sharon Hotel in Herzliya, where he was presented with the traditional silver platter by the dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Cameroon Ambassador Henri Etoundi Essomba. "It's only when you get one of these trays that you know you're really going," said Eihenbaums, whose new posting is to Estonia. "If Israel is an intensive place for a diplomat," he observed, "serving in a neighboring country is even more so, because the presidents exchange visits twice a month." This is apparently such a grueling exercise for embassy staff that the charge d'affaires has asked Eihenbaums to cut his home leave short so that her children will remember what she looks like. Inara Eihenbaums worked diligently to upgrade the Diplomatic Spouses Club and to introduce the most interesting and exciting programs, but also put her heart and soul into working for a number of Israeli and Palestinian charities. Her colleagues and the charitable organizations she supported began to bemoan her absence long before she left, although she is continuing to work for them until literally the last minute, and has promised to return from time to time. nDIAMONDS ARE a girl's best friend, wrote Anita Loos in her enduring 1925 novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Diamonds also happen to be Israel's best friend, especially when the diamond merchant is Lev Leviev, whose international holdings include an exclusive jewelry store on New York's Madison Avenue. It was here that Janice Gillerman, wife of Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the UN, in cooperation with Kenneth Bialkin, president of the America Israel Friendship League, organized a somewhat different 60th anniversary celebration for Israel. It had a lot of sparkle in more ways than one. Gillerman invited the wives of ambassadors to the UN to join her in celebrating Israel's 60th, and Leviev happily provided the premises. Models wearing priceless diamond necklaces, bracelets, rings and ear rings mingled among the many guests, who included Kelly Akram, the wife of Pakistan's ambassador to the UN. Israel and Pakistan, needless to say, do not have diplomatic ties. nSOME ARTISTS are lucky if they can have one exhibition a year. South African- born, Jerusalem-based artist Maureen Fain is just the opposite, juggling several media and several exhibitions in a short time frame. A landscape artist, portrait painter, book illustrator and sculptress, Fain is best known for her paintings in water colors and oils, and has exhibited in group and solo exhibitions since 1963. This month, she had two exhibitions - one at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center and the other at the Ein Hod Gallery; and in July she will have another exhibition at Beit Gavriel in Galilee. In the midst of all this she had to fly to Boston for her son's graduation - and also to play grandmother, albeit for too short a period as far as she was concerned. nPEOPLE WHO grow up in a country in which they experienced severe anti-Semitism, seldom expect to be honored by that same country. Honorary Hungarian Consul Josef Weiss has already been honored by Hungary on more than one occasion in the past, but as a child of the Holocaust in German-occupied Hungary, he continues to be surprised every time some new Hungary honor is accorded him. At the recent world conference of Hungarian consuls in Budapest, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Kinga Gonz surprised him yet again when she announced his appointment as consul-general of the Republic of Hungary with jurisdiction over the territory of Jerusalem. This is a particularly important step because it gives official recognition to Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and at the same time honors a native son of Hungary who is now an Israeli citizen. Weiss, who survived the Holocaust, spent many years afterwards trying to locate where his father who had been taken to some place in the Soviet Union, had been buried. While the bulk of the Soviet Bloc countries did not have diplomatic relations with Israel, it was impossible for him to properly conduct the search. However, when diplomatic relations were restored or newly initiated, he wasted very little time in continuing with his search. With perseverance and a great deal of expense he eventually found the gravesite and was finally able to say Kaddish with a full heart. nIF BLOOD were oil, Larry Metsch could rival a small Arab Gulf emirate in terms of output. But Metsch is not an Arab Gulf emirate. He is an attorney active in the Aventura, Florida Jewish community and deeply connected to Israel. Last week, Metsch donated his 99th unit of blood, something he's been doing for the last three decades. Regular blood donors know that donating blood is a commitment that sometimes borders on obsession. They also appreciate that it is a privilege to be healthy enough to donate blood in the first place, and it is definitely better to give than to receive. Other than reaching this personal milestone, Metsch made the occasion all the more special by donating this, his 99th unit, not in the United States as he has done in the past, but for the first time, in Israel. In doing so, he became the 650th donor in blood drives organized by the American Friends of Magen David Adom in 2008. This represents another significant milestone in that throughout all of 2007, AFDMA helped collect only 802 units of blood. Reaching the 650th unit so much earlier than last year, and with two additional blood drives currently scheduled for the balance of June puts AFMDA on track towards doubling last year's total. nISRAELI EXPATRIATE singer Rika Zarai, who has been living in Paris for many years, but who returns to Israel periodically, is in a serious condition in a Parisian hospital, according to a report in Yediot Aharonot. Zarai, last in Israel less than two months ago for the Holon Festival, was said to be in intensive care following a stroke which has paralyzed the left side of her body. Zarai, who achieved considerable fame in Paris, always included Hebrew songs in her concerts and her CDs, and was a frequent interviewee on Israeli radio programs. nLAST WEEK, when a group of students from the Young Ambassadors' course that was launched a year ago at Haifa's Reali School, came to Jerusalem to meet with President Shimon Peres, something went wrong with the sound system, a not unusual occurrence at Beit Hanassi. School principal Ron Kitri, a former head of the Army Spokesman's office, told the youngsters that they had learned a very important lesson - namely, that if they had the perfect message and no one heard them, it was as if they hadn't spoken. The Young Ambassadors' course designed to get Israeli youth to explain Israel's position to their peer generation abroad and to help bring Jewish youth in the Diaspora to identify more closely with Israel, is sponsored by the family of the late Gershon Avner, who was a graduate of the Reali School, a diplomat, and cabinet secretary from 1974-77. Avner's son, Michael, recalled that his father had come as a young immigrant from Germany and had always attributed the starting point of his whole career to the Reali School. Michael Avner brought with him a handwritten note from Peres to his father that had been passed across the table during a cabinet meeting more than 30 years ago. The note related to a meeting between US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and King Faisal, who told Kissinger that he welcomed him not as a Jew, but as a human being. To which Kissinger replied: "Some of my best friends are human beings." nPERES, WHO has been explaining Israel's case for a longer period than almost anyone else in the country, paid tribute to Gershon Avner as being one of the best of Israel's spokespeople, and gave the youngsters a few pointers on how to tell the story. First of all, they had to believe in themselves, take themselves seriously, and refuse to get embarrassed regardless of the situation. "Ask yourselves what it is you want to convey and teach yourselves how to do it," he said. Peres also emphasized that "the cause is always more important than the ego." nHAVING A name that is not altogether unusual can be problematic at any time but especially in the current era of blogging. British Ambassador to Israel Tom Phillips, who runs his own blog, shares a name with a British artist who also happens to be a blogger. Remarks made by one could easily be misattributed to the other. Phillips, the diplomat, will tonight host a celebration in honor of the Queen's birthday. He has spoken out against those members of Britain's academic community who seek to boycott Israel. "It seems to me deeply regrettable that some in British academia are contemplating putting up barriers to communicating and understanding rather than supporting - as we are - dialogue between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority," Phillips said. nSEVERAL GERMAN dignitaries have been honored by Israel's various institutions of higher learning. Among the most recent was Dr. Jürgen Rüttgers, minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, who last week received an honorary professorship from the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research (BIDR) at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Rüttgers, a former minister for education, science research and technology in Chancellor Helmut Kohl's cabinet in the 1990s, was honored for his instrumental role in reaching agreements on scientific-technical cooperation between the European Union and the State of Israel and between Germany and Israel. Rüttgers negotiated the agreement under which Israel was able to benefit from EU research support programs. He has also actively promoted German-Israeli bilateral scientific research and development projects, particularly in the areas of oceanography and water technology. A strong supporter of collaborative research projects between researchers in the region as a way to promote greater understanding and coexistence, Ruttgers is very proud of an ongoing project that involves the joint participation of German, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian research institutions which are cooperating on ways to utilize water from the aquifers alongside the Jordan Valley. nJERUSALEM POST Entertainment Editor Miriam Shaviv had a difficult time with her first pregnancy, but a much easier time with her second. Because she felt so well, Shaviv decided to take a few weeks off before the baby was due to be born, so that she could sail fully rested into her second foray into motherhood. The baby, a second girl, arrived on the night of Shavuot at 15 minutes before midnight. The infant's father, Aron, was pleasantly surprised to see that she had a full head of dark hair. In the message that he sent out to friends and colleagues, he wrote that she couldn't be cuter.