Grapevine: The 'other' Israel

THE AFFABLE foreign press liaison in the Prime Minister's Office - New York-born David Baker - often goes back to the old country to tour the lecture circuit and give people a perspective of the Israel he knows, in contrast to the Israel shown on their television screens. Baker has been doing this for years, but says none of his previous trips through the US and Canada were as emotionally uplifting as his most recent one in the last week of February. Talking to audiences in Florida and Toronto, Baker encountered an amazing level of concern for the prime minister's health, and tremendous support for the prime minister's future well-being. Because he was in North America, Baker missed out on the office atmosphere on Ariel Sharon's birthday. In addition, he missed out on attending the birthday party for the prime minister's foreign media adviser Raanan Gissin, who, like Sharon, was born in the last week of February - albeit several years later. THANKSGIVING IN March with turkey and stuffing and all the trimmings including sweet potatoes and marshmallows? Believe it or not, yes. But the nine kg. turkey was too much for Barbara Goldstein, deputy director of Hadassah in Israel, to carry upstairs, so she stuck it in a suitcase with wheels to bring it to its destination. The thanksgiving was for the fact that her husband, retired cantor Mordecai Goldstein, was to be honored by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Goldstein was one of several retired cantors who yesterday received honorary doctorates at an impressive ceremony in New York. The Cantor Emeritus of the Neve Shalom congregation in New Jersey - where he served for 25 years and was a member of the New Jersey Cantors' Ensemble - Goldstein initiated Neve Shalom's widely acclaimed and emulated Torah Readers Program. He retired in mid-1999 to join his wife in Israel. During visits to the US, the two have returned to Neve Shalom to officiate at services. Barbara Goldstein can even recite the whole prayer book by heart. Although all their children and some of their grandchildren were in New York yesterday to share in Mordecai Goldstein's reflected glory, Barbara Goldstein remained in Israel to take care of a Hadassah mega-mission. She'll get to see the conferment ceremony on video. CHILE'S AMBASSADOR to Israel Sally Bendersky, who will be winding up her tour of duty after almost six years in the country, got up extra early one day last week to appear on Channel 2's relatively new breakfast show A New Day with Gidi Gov and Shiri Artzi. When asked to explain the fluency of her Hebrew, Bendersky explained that she had a good teacher. She had taken up Hebrew studies, she said, because one of the roles of an ambassador is to be a good communicator, and to do this successfully, one has to be able to speak the language of the host country. Bendersky was no stranger to Israel when she took up her post. She had been to Israel several times during her youth and had also spent time on a kibbutz. She will continue to return because she has a grandchild in Rehovot who was born during her tenure here. Bendersky has a global family - a son and daughter-in-law in Rehovot and three other children living in Chile, the US and France. Her husband remained in Chile, and has been coming to Israel or Europe every few months. It's difficult for global families to get together in any specific place, Bendersky acknowledged. The last time her family was all together was in 2000, just before she was informed that she would be posted in Israel. SHE'S A MUSICOLOGIST, an advocate for women's causes and civil rights, and a driving force in Israel's volunteer and non-profit sector. She's also the former head of the Music Division of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, the former head of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, one of the founders of the Sovlanut (Tolerance) Movement that put violence on Israel's social agenda of concern and the widow of celebrated and highly respected Supreme Court Justice Haim Cohn. Now, Michal Smoira-Cohn is experiencing a series of 80th birthday celebrations. One of them, to be held on March 21, will be a concert in her honor under the title "And the Melody Returns," a joint production of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, the Music Department of Israel Radio and the Music department of the Cultural Administration Division of the Ministry for Education, Culture and Sport. The event will be held at the Academy on the Safra campus of the Hebrew University in Givat Ram. When Smoira-Cohn headed the Academy, it was located in the controversial Schocken House next to the prime minister's official residence. The current Academy premises are considerably larger and allow for much more activity. The former premises are serving as a school for newly religious immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and will continue to be used for that purpose until the fate of the building is determined. A real estate developer who purchased it wanted to tear it down and put up a luxury residential project on the site, but preservationists who are interested in protecting the property for posterity have thus far succeeded in preventing its destruction. SEVERAL EXHIBITIONS in recent months of her paintings of Tel Aviv's Bauhaus architecture have earned many accolades for artist Sali Ariel, not the least of which was an invitation to exhibit in Fulda, Germany in April. But Ariel is receiving admiring comments not only for her art, but for her willpower, or rather the result of it. For quite a long time she suffered severe pain in her feet and found it difficult to walk. She went from doctor to doctor, but none could pinpoint the problem. A friend recommended Dr. Richard Jaffe, who in a telephone conversation, without examining her, suggested that her problem would diminish if she lost weight. In addition to diet, he recommended that she take up spinning. She followed his advice, lost 22 kg. in five months, feels totally energized, walks with a new spring in her step and looks absolutely wonderful. The secret of the diet - which is largely composed of both raw and cooked vegetables - is no sugar, no bread, no cake. Everything she eats has to be weighed, and her friends have become accustomed to her carrying a small scale around to ensure she stays within her limits. Losing weight is one thing, regaining one's shape is another. Ariel has happily rediscovered her waist - and she loves spinning so much that she's almost addicted. The best part - aside from all the compliments she gets - is shopping for clothes. Not so long ago, most of the clothes in her closet were too tight or too small. Now, they're all too big.