Grapevine: Showing solidarity with Sderot

Local company does its bit to help businesses in the beleagured town; Diplomatic Spouses Club visits shelter for battered women, diamond museum gets a facelift.

ALL ROADS lead to Sderot these days. The president and the prime minister went there recently, as did the foreign minister, the defense minister, the leader of the opposition, visiting government dignitaries and parliamentary delegations, Jewish solidarity groups from abroad, entertainers, sporting personalities and a whole bunch of others. Lots of them make promises, but according to Mayor Eli Moyal and many of the angry, frustrated and fearful residents of Sderot, not too much gets done. Aside from insufficient protection against Kassam rocket attacks, there's loss of income as shops close down and other business enterprises suffer the fiscal effects of what amounts to being in a war zone. Many ordinary Israelis have taken to purchasing their Shabbat hallot and other food items from Sderot, but Petah Tikva-based ECI Telecom has gone a step further with the announcement on Tuesday by its CEO, Rafi Manor, that the company will purchase all its Pessah gifts for employees and business associates from small business enterprises in Sderot to make an appreciable impact on their revenues. This is not charity, according to Manor, but a dignified way of enabling Sderot merchants and manufacturers to stay afloat in the face of government cutbacks on aid to the people of Sderot. That's what you call putting your money where your mouth is. AT THE conclusion of his visit to Soroko Medical Center last week to bring a word of cheer to victims of the terrorist attack on Dimona, President Shimon Peres held an impromptu press conference. As he was led to the ground-floor room which had been designated for the purpose, he passed through the entrance lobby, which is dominated by an enormous bust of his mentor and Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Peres examined the striking piece of sculpture from all sides, posed alongside it for photos and then asked: "Why can't we have the press conference here?" Ben-Gurion has been dead for 34 years, yet Peres, his most faithful disciple alongside Yitzhak Navon, continues to hold him in such high regard that even standing next to an image of him was like being in his aura. Of current world leaders, among those most admired by Peres is Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, whom he has publicly praised on numerous occasions, not only for his wisdom and initiative but also for his love of music and his wonderful singing voice. The two presidents spoke by phone this week at Peres's initiative. They discussed the further development of bilateral relations in various areas, especially innovative technologies. Nazarbayev reiterated the hope that he has expressed on previous occasions that a peaceful solution would be found to the situation in the Middle East, and Peres emphasized Nazarbayev's role as a peacemaker in the Asian region and conveyed Israel's pleasure with Kazakhstan's economic progress, its peaceful accords and its international relations. The Kazakh leader invited Peres to come on an official visit to Kazakhstan, where Peres has been before, but not in the capacity of president. Peres has received so many invitations for official visits that it is difficult for Beit Hanassi to fit them into his crowded itinerary. ANYONE WATCHING the televised aftermath of the sensational match between Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv could see that Peres, who was on hand to award medals and the cup, was not quite au fait with what was going on, and perhaps not even aware that the Maccabi team had left before the ceremony was over. Sports commentators were quick with their criticism of lack of sportsmanship, and charged Maccabi Tel Aviv with being poor losers. Maccabi chairman Shimon Mizrahi, who did not exit with the team, was left to take the flack. In fact, there was so much media flack that Maccabi Tel Aviv issued a public apology on Friday, but it was a little late for apologies because the critics continued to fume over the weekend. It got to the stage that even cartoonists thought it worthy of an illustrated comment. A Yediot Aharanot cartoon showed Peres looking in the direction of the retreating Maccabi team and saying: "They don't know how to lose." Actually, it's interesting to note how many of Israel's best-known political correspondents and commentators embarked on their journalistic careers as sports writers. Veteran political politics and sports commentator Hanan Crystal, who is a stalwart on Israel Radio and Israel Television, keeps a foot in both camps. LONG BEFORE Isaac Herzog accepted the Social Welfare portfolio, he and his wife, Michal, were involved in numerous social welfare activities, not the least of which is the Na'amat Glickman Center in Tel Aviv, a shelter for battered women, which is also one of five Na'amat Centers for the treatment and prevention of violence in the family. The Herzogs live not far from the Glickman Center and are among the many volunteers who come in to help in the myriad ways in which help is needed. This week, Michal Herzog took a busload of members of the Diplomatic Spouses Club (DSC) to see the impressive center and to talk to the staff and residents. Before that, she showed them another Na'amat facility - a peace kindergarten in Jaffa, where some 70 Jewish, Christian and Muslim children are taught coexistence from an early age. Lessons are conducted in Hebrew and Arabic enabling all the children to be fluent in both languages. The DSC is headed by the quietly spoken but dynamically active Inara Eichenbauma, who is the wife of the Latvian ambassador. Although already involved in numerous volunteer activities on behalf of Israeli and Palestinian women and children, Eichenbauma is always ready to take on one more, and asked what her organization could do to help. Part of the Glickman Center and much of its equipment was funded by Naamat Canada, which was particularly heartening to Clara Hirsch, the wife of the Canadian ambassador, who also asked a lot of questions and compared social services and the status of women in Israel to those of Canada. British-born Lynne Zafiropoulos, the wife of the Greek ambassador, also asked some very pertinent questions. Others present included trained nurse Joan Jones, who is the wife of the American ambassador, Anna de Bernardin, the wife of the Italian ambassador and Anne Phillips, the wife of the British ambassador. She had to leave early because she was hosting a musical event for the International Women's Club, to which DSC members were also invited, as most of them are members of both organizations. After returning to their homes in Herzliya Pituah and Kfar Shmaryahu, the DSC ladies had just enough time to freshen up and change their clothes before heading for the British residence in Ramat Gan. IT'S NOT often that a host will get up at his own party and say it's the best event he's ever attended. But that's what happened this week when Andrew C. Koss, the counselor for Public Fairs at the US Embassy, and his partner, Lynn Cassel, hosted a reception in honor of Blues, Gospel and Jazz singer Janice Harrington, keyboard virtuoso and singer Rick Cotton, and string instrumentalist and singer Fontaine Burnett. The trio have the remarkable capacity to instantly light up a room and that's exactly what they did. Curiously enough, all three live in Germany, and all are married to Germans. Harrington, who has been married four times, boasts proudly that she's a great-grandmother - but she doesn't look old enough. She confesses that her first marriage was at age 15. Her current marriage, now in its 19th year, is her longest. The group, which came to Israel under the auspices of the US Embassy's Office of Public Affairs, will be in the country till February 15, continuing with workshops and performances from north to south. The itinerary includes Karmiel, Beersheba, Jerusalem, Jaffa and Shfar'am. Koss first met Harrington in 2002 when he was serving in Poland and she was performing there. As an outcome of that meeting, she was subsequently invited by the US ambassador to Poland to perform at the first 9/11 anniversary commemoration. A friendship between Koss and Harrington blossomed and they've caught up with each other several times since. Harrington stayed with Koss and Cassel at their home in Paris. They moved into their present home only three weeks ago, and were thrilled to have Harrington, Cotton and Burnett at what could be considered a house-warming. And they certainly did warm it up. They had everyone in the living room snapping fingers, tapping toes, doing rhythm-clapping and singing along with gusto in a wonderful jam session of gospel, blues and jazz. The internationally-acclaimed Harrington, whose wide-ranging CV is positively amazing, is in love with Israel, and can't wait to return. The problem is that she's so heavily booked that it's going to be difficult to find a time slot. She thinks that she might be able to squeeze in a few days in August or September. If she does come back this year, she will be welcomed with open arms by the instant fan club that has grown up around her wherever she appeared in Israel. DIAMONDS MAY be hard, but those in the industry can often be soft-hearted, as evidenced at the inauguration of the revamped Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Museum in the Israel Diamond Exchange complex. Sentimentality was oozing out of every sentence uttered by the speakers, many of whom have worked together for more than 30 years. According to Eli Avidar, general manager of the Israel Diamond Institute, it's the only hi-tech diamond museum in the world, with video, laser and other cutting edge tools. It also has the most breathtaking of exhibitions that take creativity in jewelry design to new heights. Shmuel Schnitzer, the chairman of the board, recalled the official opening in July, 1986, of the original museum in the presence of the legendary Harry Oppenheimer and his late father, Moshe Schnitzer, who for so long was the best-known representative of Israel's diamond industry. The reopening of the museum in its new incarnation was not only a source of professional satisfaction for Schnitzer but also a matter of personal pride. It's always dangerous to start thanking people by name for fear of leaving someone out, but there were so many people deserving of credit for the renovation of the museum that Schnitzer felt it incumbent upon himself to read out an incredibly long list of names. Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar made one of the shortest speeches on record. "Mazeltov," (to the Israelis), "thank you for coming" (to the numerous visitors from abroad who had come to participate in the international rough diamond conference) and "Mazal and Bracha." (the traditional sealing of a deal in the diamond industry). Diamond Institute chairman Moti Ganz said that the reconstruction of the museum was one of the first projects he had embarked on after taking office, but that the real credit belonged to outgoing general manager Ephraim Raviv, who is retiring. "Ephraim Raviv's name is engraved in this museum. It was his initiative and his work," said Ganz, as he presented Raviv with a large photo album that contained a photographic record of his many years of museum activity. Raviv also went home with an exquisitely crafted silver kiddush cup. Gareth Penny, representing De Beers - which has given a lot of support to the museum - said that it was "truly magnificent. I'm blown away." People mostly go to museums to see things of the past, he observed, but in this museum, the visitor can see the origin of diamonds, technology and designs. "It is not only physically but metaphorically the center of the diamond industry," he said. Varda Shine, sales director of the Diamond Trading Company of the De Beers Group, emphasized the need to support the governments of diamond-producing countries because that would have repercussions on the industry worldwide. Diamond Exchange president Avi Paz said he was pleased to see so many important guests, including the vice president of Sierra Leone and the Liberian minister for mines. The huge number of guests would never have fitted into the museum, so organizers set up a large marquee with dramatic black-and-white awnings and big, black pottery vases with white flowers sitting on white tables. There was an elegant breakfast buffet with waiters walking around early in the day with wine and champagne. More unusual was to see a waiter carrying a tray intended purely for the deposit of paper napkins, which had been used for finger food. RETURNING HOME to Israel to chair one of the sessions at the Rough Diamond conference was international diamond kingpin Lev Leviev, who's actually had a rough time lately with attempted boycotts of his luxury jewelry stores in Madison Avenue in New York and Bond Street in London. Last Saturday, the last major shopping day before Valentine's Day, the New York store whose window is emblazoned in pink with the words, "Celebrate love with Leviev," was surrounded by some 45 pro-Palestinian protesters carrying red heart-shaped signs bearing slogans such as "Settlements are heartless" and "Have a heart, Leviev." The protest demonstration organized by Adalah-NY, the Coalition for Justice in the Middle East, against construction in settlements, was the seventh since the store opened last November. In London, 25 protesters picketed Leviev's Bond Street store with messages of a similar nature. The protests are directed at Leviev in his capacity as head of Africa Israel, which is building residential projects in Judea and Samaria.