Grapevine: They've got the money...

The Ofer brothers are still donating generously despite their substantial losses.

sex and the city 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
sex and the city 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
ACCORDING TO the refrain in an old song, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Over the past year, we've seen both get poorer, but worst affected were people in the middle income bracket, who suddenly found themselves poor. For the poor it was just more of the same, and for the rich, it was living with less, but still a lot. Which explains how shipping and real estate magnates Sammy and Eyal Ofer were ranked 8th on the Sunday Times Rich List in Britain, despite the fact that they had lost £659 million. Their current estimated wealth is £2.677 billion. Under the circumstances, they would hardly miss what they've lost. Proof is in the millions of pounds that father and son gave away since the start of the economic crunch.
  • SOMETIMES THERE'S a happy ending in the story of the poor as in the case of the workers of Vita Pri Hagalil. The badly mismanaged company was threatened with closure and the workers, who were in most cases barely earning a living wage, had little or no chance of finding employment elsewhere in Hatzor Haglilit. For four months Moti Haziza, the chairman of the worker's union, waged a relentless battle with the banks, with politicians and with potential buyers, to keep Pri Hagalil open. Haziza doesn't have an MBA. He doesn't even have a matriculation certificate. But he has street smarts and a big heart. It also helped that the media were not only on his side, but on the side of all the hapless people who just wanted the chance to keep the little that they had. Potential buyers came and went. Either they couldn't satisfy the banks or they were unwilling to keep on all the workers, or they wanted to erode the working conditions which were nothing to write home about in the first place. Then along came the knight in shining armor, Zachi Shalom, the owner of the Hetzi Hinam chain of supermarkets, who agreed to leave all the workers in place and to leave their working conditions intact. At the end of last week they had a huge blast of a celebration, before resuming work on Sunday. To them, Israel's 61st Independence Day was probably the sweetest ever.
  • FOLLOWING REPORTS and retractions about rising anti-Semitism in Norway, comes a historical travelling exhibition about Jewish life in Norway from the mid-19th century until 1945. The exhibition, entitled "Wergeland's Legacy," is a mark of appreciation to Norway's national poet Henrik Wergeland, whose battle to repeal the clause in the Norwegian constitution that banned Jews from entering the country was finally won in the Norwegian Parliament in 1851. Although the law was amended, popular sentiment was not, and there was a lot of anti-Jewish feeling in Norway. As a result, the Jewish population was never very high, although Norway was one destination of Jews fleeing the pogroms of Russia and neighboring countries. From the time of the repeal to around 1920, some 1,200 Jews settled in Norway, and most of today's Jewish community is descended from this group. The number of Jews increased in the 1930s, bolstered by those who fled Nazi Germany, but Norway was not a pleasant place for them because vitriolic anti-Jewish propaganda led to violence against Jews. Even with the refugees, the Norwegian Jewish population at its peak was slightly in excess of 2,000, and several hundred of them were deported by the Nazis. Today, Norway's Jewish population numbers about one thousand. The exhibition will be opened on Tuesday, May 5, at Beth Hatefutsoth, by Norwegian Ambassador Jakken Biern Lian, along with Olav Aaraas, Director of the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History in Oslo and Sidsel Levin, director of the Jewish Museum of Oslo. It is based on material gathered through the Norwegian-Jewish Documentation Project of the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History in Oslo in cooperation with the Jewish Community of Oslo, and includes interviews with Norwegian Jews born before the war. Photographs in the exhibition come from private albums which were buried, hidden by friends, or taken along by Jews fleeing from Norway to Sweden.
  • BECAUSE ANZAC Day, April 25, fell on a Saturday this year, Australian Ambassador James Larsen decided to hold the ceremony two days earlier - and if he was already making a departure from tradition, he also decided to hold it at a more convenient hour than in the past. ANZAC Day commemorates the disastrous dawn landing at Gallipoli by Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in the First World War. In recent years, the service at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Jerusalem was also held at dawn, but this time Larsen decided to hold it at 10 a.m. Although diplomatic events are generally punctual, this one was not. Larsen decided to wait for US Ambassador James Cunningham, who arrived 10 minutes late. But this was completely forgivable because, unlike most of the allied countries who fought in the First World War, the US is almost always represented by its ambassador at ANZAC Day ceremonies in Israel, whereas most of the other countries tend to rely on diplomats of lower rank and on military attaches. For several years now, there has also been a representative of the Turkish Embassy to join the other wreath-layers, and Larsen, in his address, noted the courage of Turkish soldiers, thousands of whom, like thousands of ANZACS, had laid down their lives in the Gallipoli campaign. Joining in this year's ANZAC Day commemoration was Jay Weatherill, South Australian Minister for Environment and Conservation, who had come to Israel as the guest of the Jewish National Fund for the inauguration of the South Australia Israel Friendship Forest - part of the Yatir Forest, the largest planted forest in the country. ANZAC biscuits were served at a small reception that Larsen hosted after the ANZAC Day ceremony. On Saturday, Australian ambassadors in other parts of the world including Turkey, conducted services. Hundreds of Australians gathered at the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli, where Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith laid a wreath.
  • EDUCATION MINISTER Gideon Sa'ar is taking his duties very seriously. Last week when he visited the Tel Aviv Ironi Tet High School, he delivered a history lesson on Herzl and anti-Semitism, and created sufficient interest in the subject to elicit questions from the students whom he later joined at recess in a game of soccer. Sa'ar was so pleased with the experiment that he is now going to make it a regular practice to visit different schools and give a history lesson. Sa'ar already has a law degree and he's a seasoned politician. Now it looks like he's pursuing a third profession.
  • UNLESS THEY'RE of a nature to mark a milestone in the reign of a monarch or a special event in the career of a governor, general, a president or a prime minister, stamps depicting the likenesses of living people are not usually issued. So it was a very pleasant surprise for Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, when Avi Hochman, CEO of the Israel Postal Company, presented him with a set of stamps that bore his likeness. The occasion was the launch of the Postal Company's first retail store, which is not unlike any regular office supplies store in terms of merchandise except that it also offers postal services that are not necessarily available in regular stores. Kahlon chaired the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee that approved the setting up of stores in post offices, and in so doing, earned his image on a stamp. The launch, Kahlon's first public appearance as minister, took place at the Central Post Office in Jerusalem. It was attended by members of the Jerusalem City Council, including Mayor Nir Barkat and numerous postal employees. Members of the public, who went past the post office that evening and heard the strains of a jazz band, wondered what on earth was going on. The buffet, which had the usual Moroccan delicacies, was also laden with trays of sushi. It's actually rare to go to a reception in Jerusalem these days without finding sushi on the menu. Ariel Jacoby, chairman of the State Employees Committee, reminded Kahlon that he had told him that he would be a minister one day, and noted that nearly all communications ministers had gone on to greater things.
  • WHILE ON the subject of stamps, Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, in company with the Polish Post and the Israel Postal Company, will host a ceremony marking the Israel-Poland joint stamp issue dedicated to Polish Year in Israel and to Berel Joselewicz, a Jewish fighter for Polish freedom. The ceremony will be held at Yad Leshiryon in Latrun on Sunday, May 3.
  • TEL AVIV Mayor Ron Huldai was a guest at the weekly cabinet meeting last Sunday to receive the congratulations of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tel Aviv's centenary celebrations. Netanyahu described Tel Aviv as "the city that never ceases to amaze us, a truly international city, an effervescent, creative and commercial city; a city of entertainment, technology and unceasing creativity, a city of the present and of the future." Netanyahu noted that Tel Aviv "has one characteristic that outshines everything: It is a Hebrew city, the first Hebrew city. In my eyes, it symbolizes renewal alongside continuity, which is the basic characteristic of the State of Israel, the state of the Jewish people that has returned to its homeland and is building a new life." As a Jerusalemite, he said, he wanted to congratulate Huldai for everything that he and the people of Tel Aviv are doing. For all that, Tel Aviv is being left to find its own funding for special projects. Netanyahu announced that he had informed Huldai that the government is prepared to give him moral, if not budgetary, support in restoring Dizengoff Square to its original state.
  • NOTWITHSTANDING HIS fondness for luxuries, former prime minister Ehud Olmert is no snob and is known to be a people person. Thus he felt no need, now that he's out of office, to notify Shimon Mor, the manager of the Mevasseret Zion branch of the Rami Levy supermarket, that he was coming by to do his weekend shopping. Aside from the fact that he was accompanied by three bodyguards, Olmert, who now lives in nearby Motza Illit, behaved like any other customer, checking out the products on the shelves and gradually filling his shopping cart as he wandered up and down the aisles. And when he got to the checkout counter, he waited in line just like anyone else. Some of the other customers came over to shake his hand and wish him well. Despite the nonchalant attitude, Olmert has a lot on his mind - including several police investigations and his health.
  • THERE WAS a hint of Michelle Obama in Jerusalem this week. No, America's first lady was not in the capital, but a fabulous Margon black silk organza coat with sleeves belled below the elbow, identical to one that Obama wore to a recent reception, won admiring oohs and aahs from Jerusalem socialites who accepted an invitation to visit the Amica store in the Windmill complex in Rehavia. Socialites are rarely averse to seeing new fashion collections, but they would have come to this one under any circumstances because fellow socialite Mimi Kanfu, who used to be in the hotel business, has forsaken it in favor of fashion. The effervescent Kanfu is now the owners' representative for the Amica chain and invited many of her friends to come see the new fashions from Italy and Germany, with black and white as the dominant colors and tangerine, apricot, strong lilac and turquoise brightening up the fashion landscape. Favorite fabrics are pure cotton, linen and silk, and many of the dresses and jackets are fully lined. Styling is both classic and romantic, leaving plenty of leeway for generation gaps. Veteran model Hani Perry and her daughter Daniella proved that mother and daughter, even though they don't look alike, look equally good in identical outfits. Perry frequently models for women in her own 50-plus age group, because once they see her in an outfit, it gives them a sense of confidence.
  • FEW PEOPLE in Israel work as hard as President Shimon Peres, who keeps going from dawn till well after dusk. Towards the end of last week Peres met with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman after regular working hours in his private apartment at Beit Hanassi. He also met with the Chinese foreign minister and the Czech prime minister, visited the Druse village of Daliyat el-Carmel, and participated in the Earth Day ceremony in Jerusalem as well as other trips and meetings. He also started this week with a visit to Kibbutz Yavne and on Monday and Tuesday attended a series of memorial ceremonies. On Independence Day he hosted two military ceremonies in the morning, a diplomatic ceremony in the late afternoon and participated in the Israel Prize ceremony in the evening. There were also meetings and activities not listed on his schedule. For a man in his mid-eighties, that's pretty good going.
  • FOLLOWING ON the tremendous success of the Facing Tomorrow conference that he sponsored last year in celebration of Israel's 60th anniversary, Peres recently announced the Presidents Conference II, which like its predecessor is expected to bring many current and former world leaders to Jerusalem. However, unlike the first conference, the second conference will not coincide with the Gregorian calendar date of Israel's Independence, which has been reserved for the pope's visit. Instead, it will be held on October 20-22, after Succot, and will be called Facing Tomorrow 2009. Invitees will include heads of state, heads of government and senior ministers, leading figures from the world of business and presidents of universities and Jews who have achieved renown in their respective fields, among them actress Sarah Jessica Parker, best known for her starring role in the television series and subsequent movie Sex and the City. Last year, a lot of publicity was given to the anticipated participation of singer and film star Barbra Streisand, who bowed out at almost the last minute, but absence did little if anything to spoil the luster of the event.
  • PRIOR TO the annual International Bible Quiz, which has become part and parcel of Israel Independence Day ceremonies, Peres hosted the 47 contestants from 24 countries, and told them that the Bible is the most important and enduring asset of the Jewish people. Each of the contestants, most of them speaking Hebrew, introduced themselves by name, age and country. Their ages range from 13 to 18. Peres characterized the Bible as the raison d'etre of the Jewish people, and urged the youngsters to continue to study it. Rachel Weintraub, 14, a student of the Flatbush Yeshiva in Brooklyn, New York, speaking in Hebrew on behalf of all the contestants, said that they would return to their homes as loyal ambassadors for Israel. She also expressed the wish that abducted soldier Gilad Schalit would return from Hamas captivity to his home as soon as possible. Weintraub fittingly chose a biblical quote from the Book of Isaiah with which to conclude her address. "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they learn of war any more."