Grapevine: The French connection

Britain’s chief rabbi to launch book here, Peres finds himself not the oldest, and a fortuitous anniversary meeting.

Malcolm Hoenlein with wife 311 (photo credit: yoni reif)
Malcolm Hoenlein with wife 311
(photo credit: yoni reif)
EMINENT FRENCH Philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who is among thesignatories to JCall, the European Jewish Call for Reason whose statedaim is to ensure the survival of Israel as a Jewish and democraticstate alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, will be inthe country next week to participate in the Israel-France forum on“Democracy and Its Challenges.” Levy has come under considerablecriticism since joining the European version of J Street, and willdoubtless subject himself to further criticism while here.
One of several French intellectuals, journalists, filmmakers andpoliticians who are participating in the three-day forum which opens atthe Suzanne Dallal Center in Tel Aviv on May 30, he will deliver thekeynote address on the opening night and will participate in othersessions. He is the only participant who is listed to speak each day.The conference, touted as the first of its kind here, is an initiativeof the French Embassy and is indicative of the enhanced andmultifaceted role that France wants to play in the region, as well asthe significant increase of French speakers in the country.
FRENCH AMBASSADOR Christophe Bigot, who is naturally involved in theIsrael-France forum, has been busy in recent weeks with conferringhonors or attending events in which his fellow countrymen were honoredby local academic institutions. Last week, on behalf of FrenchPresident Nicolas Sarkozy, he conferred the Legion of Honor onbusinessman Joseph Ciechanover in the presence of Foreign MinisterAvigdor Lieberman, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, Justice Minister YaakovNeeman and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. A venture capitalist andentrepreneur, Ciechanover is a former director general of the ForeignMinistry, a former head of El Al and sits on the boards of directors ofseveral major enterprises.
Ciechanover and Wiesel have a long-standing relationship, andCiechanover is on the Board of Directors of Wiesel’s Foundation forHumanity. Exactly five years ago, they were among 36 of the world’sleading thinkers in economics, medicine, physics and literature invitedby King Abdullah II to attend a conference in Jordan. Wiesel also has astrong French connection in that after the Holocaust he found asylum inFrance, studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and later worked in Franceas a journalist before moving to the US in the late 1950s. In his earlyyears in America, he continued to write in French.
Others attending the reception that Bigot hosted at his residence inJaffa in honor of Ciechanover included the honoree’s brother, NobelPrize laureate Aaron Ciechanover, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael MeirLau, retired Supreme Court presidents Meir Shamgar and Aharon Barak andformer governor of the Bank of Israel Jacob Frenkel.
BRITISH CHIEF Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is coming here in mid-June tolaunch his new book and to lecture at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue. Hispredecessor, Immanuel Jakobovits, was also a member of the House ofLords. British Jews have become somewhat blasé about prominent membersof their community entering the House of Lords or, at the very least,joining the peerage. But not everyone is aware that the first Britishrabbi to receive a knighthood was Sir Hermann Gollancz who will be thesubject of a lecture by Rabbi Raymond Apple to be delivered to theJewish Historical Society of England’s Israel Branch at Jerusalem’sBeit Avi Chai on May 30.
Apple, who has been living in Jerusalem since 2006, is chief rabbiemeritus of the Great Synagogue of Sydney, former senior Jewishchaplain to the Australian Defense Forces and president of theAustralian Council of Christians and Jews. He is also an historian anda past president of the Australian Jewish Historical Society. It is inthis context that he will speak on “Hermann Gollancz and the Title ofRabbi in British Jewry.”
Non-Brits may not realize that not all Jewish clergy in Britain areknown as rabbi. Many have the title of reverend, which was distinctlythe case during the Adler period (1845-1911). Chief Rabbi Nathan MarcusAdler was succeeded by his son Rabbi Hermann Adler. It was during thisperiod that Lionel de Rothschild became the first Jewish Member ofParliament and Nathan Mayer Rothschild in 1858 became the first Jewishmember of the House of Lords. Three years earlier, in 1855, Sir DavidSolomons became the first Jewish lord mayor of London. During the Adlerperiod, Britain had only one rabbi – the Chief Rabbi – while otherJewish clergy were called reverend.
n APROPOS LORD Sacks, Rambam Medical Center friends from Great Britainand Israel came together at his home and that of Lady Elaine Sacks inthe week prior to Shavuot and learned that Lord Sacks is the futurepatron of the Friends of Rambam in Great Britain. The chief rabbi andhis wife opened their home for a BFR gathering that included Ambassadorto England Ron Prosor, Sir Bernard and Lady Schreier, Dr. Ramy andSmadar Goldstein, Stanley Brodie, Neville Shulman and many others fromthe London Jewish community.
Among the Israeli contingent were chairman of the Rambam Board ofTrustees and Friends of Rambam Eitan Wertheimer, director of Hematologyand Bone Marrow Transplantation at Rambam Jacob Rowe, administrativedirector Dr. Esty Golan and her husband Shari Golan and director ofpublic affairs and resource development Talia Zaks. BFR members whoassisted in organizing the event included Anita Alexander-Passe, LeoraTorn-Hibler, Malka Leon, Lior Hannes, Michael and Noga Komissar andAmir Levy. Addresses were delivered by Sacks, director of Rambam HealthCare Center Rafi Beyar, Nobel Prize winner and Rambam researcher AaronCiechanover and others.
AFTER AN absence of more than eighteen months, Yehoram Gaon isfinally returning to present his weekly comments on current affairs onIsrael Radio’s Reshet Bet. At the Israel Broadcasting Authority,they’re so happy to have him back that they’re running an exaggeratednumber of promos to announce that his broadcasts will resume at 1 p.m.this Friday.
THOUGH NOT much in the news these days, former MK and governmentminister Rabbi Michael Melchior continues to do much of what he wasdoing in those capacities and is considering a return to politics.However he will not throw in his cap with Labor as he did in the past,he says, and after a failed alliance with the Green Movement in the2009 elections is unlikely to turn in that direction again.
Meanwhile,he will be the Jewish representative at an Israel Palestine Center forResearch and Information panel discussion on “Bringing Religion to theFront Lines of Peace” at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem on June 2.The Christian speaker will be Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of theEvangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. The identityof the Muslim speaker has yet to be announced
THE ANNUAL Guardian of Zion Award ceremony and gala dinner ofBar-Ilan university’s Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies isalways top heavy with dignitaries – and this year was no exception. Infact there may have even been more than in past years, because thisyear’s recipient Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of theConference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, movesin so many circles that he knows just about every leading personalityin the Jewish world. Some of the previous recipients were present,among them Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and multiple Oscar winningfilm producer Arthur Cohn, each of whom always makes a point ofattending the event.
Among the other attendees at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem wereJewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, former ambassador to the USZalman Shoval, Kadima MK Dalia Itzik, Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz, NationalInfrastructures Minister Uzi Landau, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman,former justice minister Moshe Nissim, US Ambassador James Cunninghamand Israel Museum director James Snyder. Prime Minister BinyaminNetanyahu sent videotaped greetings in which he said he had knownHoenlein for some 30 years and spoke glowingly of him, calling him adefender of Israel and the Jewish people and an activist on behalf ofSoviet Jewry.
Hoenlein began his address with a little light banter before gettinginto the serious stuff. He thanked Netanyahu for the commercial, saidit was nice to hear his eulogy and to be able to walk away, andexplained that the difference between a tribute and a eulogy is that inthe case of a tribute there’s at least one person who believeseverything that’s being said.
ONE WOULD think that two major institutes whose curriculum includesfashion design would coordinate major events so that there would be nocompetitive clash for attendance. But the annual gala of ShenkarCollege of Engineering and Design, the alma mater of some of thecountry’s leading fashion designers, including international prizewinning designer Alber Elbaz, who is the chief designer for Lanvin, ison the same date as the opening of the Bezalel Academy of Arts andDesign Festival of Film, Fashion and Philosophy that is being conductedin cooperation with the Goethe Institute of Jerusalem, the JerusalemCinematheque and the Romain Gary French Cultural Center.
Both events are scheduled for tomorrow, though the one in Jerusalem isa three-day affair in which fashion designers, media theorists,artists, scholars and style bloggers from here and abroad will examinethe interrelationship between fashion, philosophy and media. Thefestival includes a fashion show, fashion oriented films, paneldiscussions, lectures, exhibitions and parties. Among the films to bescreened will be Fashion and People dealing with Orthodox apparel, IDFgarb and other facets of Israeli fashion. Ruth Dayan, who founded thenow defunct Maskit, which did so much for Israel’s fashion image, willreceive a lifetime achievement award in recognition of her contributionto local fashion and the empowerment of women here. Next week, theHaifa-born Dayan, who has initiated so many social, cultural andtraditional ethnic projects, will also receive an honorary doctoratefrom the University of Haifa.
The Shenkar gala will be the swan song for controversial PresidentAmotz Weinberg, who after 16 years in office is handing over the batonto former MK and government minister Yuli Tamir.
THANKS TO a collaborative effort by Tishkofet, the Cameri Theater,the Haifa Municipal Theater and Matar, the local publishers ofcelebrated American author Mitch Albom, the wheels were set in motionfor Albom’s visit, where he gave one of his patented talks at a benefitfor the organization at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center inJerusalem. Tishkofet cofounder Dr. Ben Corn had the opportunity to hearAlbom speak about his new book Have a Little Faith soon after itsrelease last year in New York City.
“My 82-year-old mother invited me to attend a lecture by Mitch at the92nd Street Y, and I couldn’t refuse,” said Corn, chairman of RadiationOncology at Tel Aviv Medical Center-Ichilov Hospital, and along withhis wife Dvora, codirector of Tishkofet/Life’s Door, a national,Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization that provides support topatients with life-threatening illnesses, as well as to their doctorsand families.
“At the end of the talk, which was very stimulating, there was a longline of people with books they were getting Mitch to sign. We were thelast ones and we started talking to him, and I told him about Tishkofetand our work and I raised the idea of his coming to Israel. He washelpful from the start.”
Corn added that in his position at Ichilov Hospital, he requires all ofhis students and interns to read Albom’s best-seller Tuesdays withMorrie, just as he would have them read Grey’s Anatomy. “And I testthem on it, as well – not on whether they’ve read it, but to see ifthey were able to internalize the principles stated in the book.”
USUALLY HE’S the oldest person in the room or at a particular event,but President Shimon Peres, who turns 87 in August, found himself to bea spring chicken in comparison to Lotek Etzion, a member of KibbutzMerhavia, when he joined in the celebrations on Monday evening of 100years of settlement in the Jezreel Valley. Peres was also outranked inage by Ruth Dayan, 93, and still going strong and driving her own car.The two spent time together, viewing some of the historic exhibits.Peres also met with people older than he is when he visited KibbutzDeganya when it celebrated its 100th anniversary a month and a half ago.
An ex-kibbutznik himself, Peres always enjoys these confrontations withhis past, even when it’s not his own kibbutz that he's visiting.Addressing some 2,500 people who had gathered on the lawns of thekibbutz, Peres said that the celebration was not only that of theJezreel Valley, but a milestone in Jewish history. The nostalgia wasenhanced by singer Esther Ofarim, who has been living in Germany formany years, but who came home to sing some of her best known hits.
THE LONG arm of coincidence can stretch across the years in thestrangest way. Australian expatriates Shmuel and Sara Klein, longbefore they actually made aliya 18 years ago, had many years earliercome here independently of each other and it was here that they decidedthat they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. Theymarried in 1968. The officiating rabbi was She’ar-Yashuv Cohen, wholater became chief rabbi of Haifa.
A native Jerusalemite who fought in the War of Independence, defendingJerusalem and the Etzion Bloc, Cohen was severely wounded in battle inthe Old City, and was taken captive by the Arab Legion of the Jordanianarmy. He was transferred to Amman where he became a leader of theprisoners of war. Following his repatriation, he continued to serve inthe IDF for seven years, holding senior positions in the ChaplaincyCorps, including chief rabbi of the air force. Cohen likes to come backto Jerusalem as often as possible and on the Shabbat prior to JerusalemDay, attended services at the Great Synagogue, where at the monthlyFriday night dinner for lone soldiers, he shared some of hisexperiences before, during and after the War of Independence. He stayedon in Jerusalem after Shabbat so that he could be there for JerusalemDay, and with his wife Naomi, went to the Tower of David to convey hisgreetings to Mayor Nir Barkat.
The Kleins happened to be at the Tower of David at the same time. Theywould have been overjoyed to see the Cohens at any time – butespecially on this particular day, because it happened to be theirwedding anniversary according to the Hebrew calendar. According to theGregorian calendar, it was last Thursday.
JOURNALISTS WITH a loyal readership are frequently urged to writebooks about the people they’ve met and the places they’ve been. SteveKramer, the Alfei Menashe-based Israel correspondent for the JewishTimes of South Jersey, has taken up the challenge not once, but twice.His first book Meandering through Israel took readers to places bothfamiliar and off the beaten track. Now, he’s come up with a morein-depth sequel Encountering Israel – Geography, History, Culture.Kramer says that his new volume is intended for armchair travelersincluding those who live here, but don’t necessarily stray far fromhome. It’s also for travelers who have been here and those who intendto visit.