Grapevine: Thais that bind

Kickbocking and spice from Bangkok, kudos for Gillerman and daughter, Jon Corzine visits and the IPO heads down under.

grapes 88 (photo credit: )
grapes 88
(photo credit: )
ALL ROADS last week led, not to Rome, but to Acre, where at the initiative of prominent businessmen Michael Strauss, Nochi Dankner and Moshe Wertheim, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta performed Beethoven's Sixth Symphony and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture on the eastern wall of the old city to an appreciative audience of some 3,000 people from all over the country. Attendees included Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Education Minister Yuli Tamir. The Strauss family, replete with spouses and significant others, made a spectacular showing of family unity and support, which was hardly surprising considering that the family has long been engaged in cultural and social welfare contributions to Acre. Others present included Acre Mayor Shimon Lancry, former Labor chairman and former Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna, impresario and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchen, business tycoon Yossi Maiman and his wife Hilit, Attorney Yossi Gilor, the Honorary Consul for Thailand in Haifa and his wife Judge Bilha Gilor, who is president of the Haifa District Court, plus numerous business leaders and cultural activists. The purpose of the event was to reinforce the concept of Acre as an historical treasure and as an important tourist destination. Mehta took it a step further, predicting that Acre could well become the Salzberg of the Middle East. In this context, IPO secretary-general Avi Shoshani looked forward to the day when Arab musicians would be included as members of the orchestra. n THIS WEEK, the IPO is going to Australia via Bangkok to perform an Israel 60th anniversary series of three concerts at the Sydney Opera House - on July 26, 27 and 28. On the way home from Australia the IPO will perform on July 30 at the Bangkok International Festival of Dance and Music, the opening of which was brought forward specifically so that the IPO could be included. The Bangkok recital is a sell-out, but Gershon Zohar, the Foreign Ministry's liaison to the Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe, is a former Ambassador to Thailand and was thus able to use his protekzia to get a ticket. Zohar is so loyal a fan of the IPO that he organized his annual trip to Australia to visit his mother and other relatives to coincide with the IPO's appearance in the southernmost continent. The only problem is that his family lives in Melbourne and the IPO concerts are in Sydney. Undaunted, Zohar advised his relatives well ahead of time that at least one of them would accompany him from Melbourne to Sydney to hear the IPO play. n MEANWHILE, ON the home front, Thai Ambassador Chatchawed Chartsuwan, together with Chen Michaeli, general manager of the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv, last Thursday hosted the opening of the Thai Festival in Israel. This included Thai culture and cuisine, plus a display of Thai fruit and vegetable sculpting and a demonstration of Thai kick boxing by members of the Israel Muay Thai Kickboxing Association, in advance of the national kickboxing championships this week. Along with the Thai singers, dancers and musicians, a chef was flown in from Thailand, carrying the special spices that give Thai food its unique, delicious flavor. If you thought Moroccan fish was hot, taste the Thai version. n IT WAS like old home week for Simon McDonald, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's chief policy adviser, when he accompanied Brown on his brief visit to Israel. McDonald, who served as Britain's ambassador here from 2003 to 2006, was subsequently head of the Iraq policy desk at the Foreign Office. During his stint as ambassador he had been to all the places that were on Brown's itinerary this week and thus was able to meet up again with a lot of familiar faces. n 2008 IS a significant anniversary year not only for Israel, but also for the US and Egypt and for the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The 30th anniversary of the signing of the Camp David accords by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, witnessed by US President Jimmy Carter, falls on September 17. Many of the participants of that historic meeting at Camp David are no longer with us, but some of those who are will appear in a documentary film that was originally intended for the Camp David anniversary, but which has now been moved to March 2009 when Israel and Egypt will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the peace treaty signed by Begin and Sadat. Production of the film began in October 2006 in Washington. This week, executive producer Matthew Tollin, producer director Harry Hunkele and co-producer Vered Kollek, a native Jerusalemite living in California, were in Israel to conduct interviews with Dan Pattir, Elyakim Rubinstein, Meir Rosenne, Arye Naor, Yechiel Kadishai, Abrasha Tamir, Shlomo Gazit and others who were directly or indirectly involved in the events that led up to the historic gathering at Camp David and the even more historic signing ceremony in Washington. To get as much background as possible, the team will travel to Egypt, Austria, Morocco and possibly Romania, though there is no-one left from from Nicolae Ceasescu's government. However, Ceasescu's personal photographer, according to Kollek, lives in Israel. Some of the people who will be interviewed for the documentary have not spoken of Camp David in front of a camera before, said Tollin. Among them is former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, who hasn't said yes, but hasn't said no either. Barak, who is currently teaching at Yael University, told Tollin that he did not think it appropriate to be interviewed on the subject while he was a judge, and then went into a dissertation on how peace could be achieved today. He told Tollin to look him up again. n THE CZECH Republic and Slovakia, were in 1968 still united as Czechoslovakia. Dr. Robert Rehak, cultural and press attaché at the Embassy of the Czech Republic, has sent out "hold the date" notices for August 28 when the embassy will host a special commemorative event marking the 40th anniversary of the Prague Spring liberalizing political and cultural reforms. Soviet leaders felt threatened by the reforms, and in August sent Warsaw Pact troops to occupy the country. There was resistance in Prague, but the occupation eventually managed to reestablish a strong Communist regime subservient to the Soviet Union. The reforms had begun in January 1968, when Alexander Dubcek came to power and sought to liberalize the press and to grant additional rights to citizens. In March, 2004, Dubcek's son Milan Dubcek presented his credentials to then president Moshe Katsav as Slovakia's ambassador to Israel. n ISRAEL'S OUTGOING permanent representative to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, is not the only representative of his family in the news. His daughter Karen Gillerman-Harel, who is a professional photographer, is also getting considerable attention, most recently for her prize-winning photograph in a contest co-sponsored by Bank Hapoalim and Yediot Aharonot to give artistic expression to the flag of Israel in honor of the 60th anniversary of the nation's independence. Because the first major intake of immigrants was of refugees who were Holocaust survivors, Gillerman-Harel sought to connect the generation of the Holocaust with the generation of future adults who are native-born citizens of Israel. With an extraordinary blend of sensitivity and symbolism she succeeded in bridging the past with the future through the arms of Polish-born Auschwitz survivor Dora Dreiblat, born in 1922, and her great granddaughter Daniela Har-Zvi, born in 2007 in Israel. The infant's hand, stretched out towards the number on her great grandmother's arm, links the future, the present and the past over the flag of Israel, making the photograph a compelling historical document. Born in Israel in 1970, Gillerman-Harel has worked in public relations, for ABC News, MTV Europe and various organizations and institutions. A photography buff since childhood, her camera is part of her persona. It goes where she goes, and has done for most of her life. Even though she had been photographing for years, she felt the need for formal study in photography and gained added knowledge at Goldsmith's College, University of London and at the New York School of Visual Arts. She has had numerous photographic successes and has exhibited in Israel and the US, but nothing she has previously photographed was more meaningful to her than the photo that won the flag contest, copies of which she presented not only to Dreiblat's family but also to President Shimon Peres and to Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev. n AS FOR Dan Gillerman, who will be returning to Israel next month, his farewell party excited media attention at home and abroad, because it drew the largest Arab representation that anyone on the diplomatic scene could remember. When Abba Eban held the position, he had many contacts with representatives of Arab countries, but most of them were in secret. It is a tribute to Gillerman's integrity and diplomacy that so many Arab diplomats attended, including those who have locked horns with him in the plenum of the UN General Assembly. It was understandable that the ambassadors from Egypt and Jordan, which have diplomatic relations with Israel, should attend, but there were also representatives from other Arab countries and the Gulf States as well as Ryad Mansour, the Palestinian observer at the UN, who has had many a public disagreement with Gillerman, but who nonetheless accepted the invitation to Gillerman's official residence in Manhattan. Among the guests who were not members of the diplomatic community were celebrated journalist Barbara Walters and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. n TIMING IS everything. When Arye Mekel was Israel's consul general in New York, he frequently met with former senator and former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs Jon Corzine, who is now the governor of New Jersey, and invited him to Israel. The first time that Corzine was supposed to come, there was a political crisis that demanded his attention. The second time, Corzine was involved in a serious car accident which almost cost him his life. In the interim Mekel returned to Israel, where he became spokesman for the Foreign Ministry and recently took a new post - that of the ministry's deputy director general for culture and science. In this capacity, he finally welcomed Corzine to Israel this week. The visit drew minimal media attention because it coincided with that of Gordon Brown who, like Corzine, was staying at Jerusalem's King David Hotel. The two men know each other and got together briefly, providing Brown with the opportunity to invite Corzine to come and listen to him in the Knesset. Corzine was accompanied by his significant other Sharon Elganian, who is Jewish and once worked as a kibbutz volunteer. He sometimes accompanies her to synagogue services and on one such occasion, when Mekel was delivering a Friday night lecture at an East Side synagogue, Corzine was among the congregants and later complimented Mekel on what he had said. Mekel hosted Corzine and Elganian to dinner along with David Abelow, who is Corzine's right hand man. Among the local invitees was James Snyder, the director of the Israel Museum, who at 10 p.m. opened the museum specially for Corzine to view some of its treasures. While in Israel, Corzine also met with Peres and with Teva chairman Eli Hurvitz, just after Teva announced that it was buying New Jersey-based rival Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. for $7 billion. n IN THE week preceding Pessah, Professor Moshe Arens was in Poland for the commemoration of the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto, which this year had the added dimension of honoring the memory of Pavel Frankel, the commander of the Irgun Zvai Yehudi which comprised members of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, Betar and Revisionists. The role of right wing groups in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had been all but overlooked by historians until Arens addressed the matter. After much laborious research, he was able to produce proof of the contention that Frankel's organization should be given its due for its vital a part in the uprising, though Arens made it clear that he had no intention of detracting from the glory that rightfully belonged to Mordechai Anielewicz. Presented with the evidence, the Polish authorities, or rather the Warsaw municipal council, agreed and put up a plaque in Frankel's memory. Now, there is also one in in Israel. At a ceremony in Herzliya at the intersection of Hadar and Leib Yaffe Streets, a plaque bearing Pavel Frankel's name was unveiled in the presence of Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, Arens, Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, Betar veterans and current members. Herzliya Mayor Yael German, who is a member of Meretz, noted that history is sometimes subjective and does not do justice to heroes who deserve to be commemorated. Although she belonged to the other camp, she said, she understood the need to pay a "debt of honor" to Frankel and his courageous fighters, who sacrificed their lives and bequeathed a legacy of courage and commitment to Israel. Netanyahu noted that the uprising in which Frankel and his combatants played a vital role had changed Jewish history, world history and the development of the War. Magdziak-Miszewska made the point that Frankel was not just a Jewish hero, but a hero in the history of Poland and is now, in light of the documented revelations by Arens, accorded the honor he deserves both in Poland and in Israel. According to Arens, this is not yet the end of the story and other means of paying tribute to Frankel are being planned. n ALTHOUGH THE mother sometimes winces, the circumcision ceremony that initiates a baby boy into the Jewish faith is generally a most joyous occasion. For Rabbi Eytan and Aviva Feiner, who celebrated the brit mila of their son Avraham Yeshayahu at Jerusalem's Great Synagogue, it was doubly so because the baby was born with a rare enzyme deficiency for which the physicians at Hadassah Hospital could find no documentation in medical literature. World experts in pediatrics were consulted, and up until the middle of this month the baby was confined to the hospital's pediatric intensive care unit. Many prayers were said for him and despite the odds he continued to survive. Though not yet in perfect health, he was considered well enough to be released from hospital and to undergo circumcision. The synagogue was packed with hundreds of well-wishers. The sandek (godfather) was the well known and widely respected Jerusalem sage Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach. n LIKE MOST Australian males, Paul Israel, the executive director of the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce, is mad about football and was therefore thrilled to learn that Australian Football League giants Ron Barassi and Robert DiPierdomenico (better known to footy fans as Dipper) have arrived in Israel. They are here to participate in a special training camp to prepare the Peres Center's Peace Team, comprising Israeli and Palestinian players, which will be traveling down under next month to compete for the AFL International Cup. Israel is organizing a casual footy dinner in Jerusalem this Saturday night for the two champions from Oz and some 30 Australian ex-pats who are AFL enthusiasts.