Grapevine: Three typhoons and an earthquake

Lights flicker on German Unity Day, new ambassadors present credentials and Arthur Cohn remembers Tony Curtis.

Peres speaking  311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
Peres speaking 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WHEN MK Nahman Shai went to Taiwan last September, he found it to be a somewhat nerve-wracking experience even for a former IDF spokesman and military correspondent. During the few days he spent there, there were three typhoons and an earthquake, none of which caused Shai to throw in the towel as chairman of the Israel-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship League. In fact, he’s been to Taiwan twice with parliamentary delegations, and has only good things to say about the country, as was evidenced on Sunday when he spoke at the 99th anniversary celebrations of the Republic of China (Taiwan) at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv. Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Orit Noked, who has also visited Taiwan, said she was deeply impressed by the warmth of the people, their hospitality and their generosity.
Usually the host at national day receptions, in deference to the host country, welcomes the guests in Hebrew, before continuing in English. Liang-jen Chang, the representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv, chose to greet his guests in Chinese, and then asked, “Understand?” Actually some of them did. Ten is an important number to the Chinese, which is why National Celebration Day is on October 10. This year, said Liang-jen, it worked out to be the 10th day of the 10th month of the 10th year, which to the Chinese signifies peace, success and prosperity.
A Made in Taiwan exhibit featured Kymco motorbikes, Merior bicycles, Asus laptops and notebooks and fashion garments and accessories made from recycled plastic bottles by DAAI . Guests were alerted that next year is Taiwan’s centenary year which will be filled with numerous festivities, making it a good year for travel to Taiwan.
■ THE ELECTRIC Corporation played havoc with the 20th anniversary celebrations of German unity hosted by Ambassador Harald Kindermann and his wife Ingrid in the garden of the German residence.
On several occasions, the area was plunged into total darkness, prompting one diplomatic guest to make an undiplomatic quip with the suggestion that the headline for the evening was “German unity – a short circuit?” Speaking in more serious vein, Kindermann reflected on the impact that reunification has had on relations with Israel, as well as on the resurgence of Jewish life in Germany. Since reunification, there has been a large influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Jewish life in Germany is flourishing and new synagogues have been built. This is something for which Germany is grateful and which it sees as a live link to Israel, said Kindermann.
Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon who represented the government, regretted that the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall did not bring about peace. Today the world is under threat of terrorism, Islamist extremism and the nuclearization of Iran, he said, and expressed appreciation that the Federal Republic of Germany continues to stand by Israel and voices its opposition to Iran’s nuclear program.
A surprise guest was former German ambassador Wilhelm Haas who reminded guests that prior to the annual celebration of German Unity Day, the national holiday was Constitution Day. He had hosted his last Constitution Day reception in March 1990 in the very same venue in Herzliya Pituah.
■ FAST BECOMING the trendiest place in Tel Aviv, Ramat Hahayal was last week the scene of the opening of a huge new art gallery, the Ferrate Gallery managed by Shiri Benartzi, whose husband Jonathan (the grandson of Yitzhak Rabin) was busy making sure that guests were introduced to the right people, especially his wife and photographer David Kassman, whose fascinating Spiderman project is the focal point of the opening exhibition.
While in New York, Kassman photographed a crowd scene and by chance caught Spiderman in his lens. The photograph inspired him to get a Spiderman costume and integrate Spiderman into scenes reflecting the Middle East, including hassidim at prayer and the pyramids.
The large crowd was representative of 30 something affluence, with the men in casual, designer attire and the women in body-hugging expensive dresses. An exception was the ever elegant Danish Ambassador Liselotte Kjarsgaard and her handsome husband Jens (a relative of MK Yohanan Plesner) who looked as if they’d just stepped out of a cover of Vogue.
■ WHILE NOT wishing to detract from the kudos accorded last week to business leader Sami Sagol, who received the French Legion of Honor from Industry Minister Christian Estrosi at a ceremony in Paris, one has to take issue with the public relations firm that sent out a headlined notice stating that he was first Israeli to be given the award in France. Generally speaking the award ceremonies are held at the residence of the French ambassador or in the French Embassy of the home country of the recipients. But there are certainly exceptions, most notably President Shimon Peres, who was awarded his Legion of Honor during his state visit to France in 2008.
Sagol was honored in recognition of his contribution to the strengthening of investments and trade relations between France and Israel. In recent years, Keter Plastics, which is owned by the Sagol family, acquired two major French companies – Allibert, which specializes in bathroom and household products, and Curver, which manufactures plastic products for home and garden. Keter invested heavily in the development of the two companies, transforming them into European leaders in their fields.
Estrosi, who in tribute to Sagol hosted a reception followed by a dinner on board a yacht on the Seine for some 200 European and Israeli business leaders, surprised the Israelis with the intensity of his pro-Israel remarks.
■ THERE’S NEVER a cutoff age for making aliya. Five years ago, German-born Mina Giesler, who spent a large part of her life in France, came here at 95. Wedded at 20, she and her husband of 47 years had a good marriage, but no children. A working woman for most of her life, she continued to work after she was widowed, and stayed on the job till 90, selling books and paintings on the banks of the Seine. After arriving, she lived for two years in Kiryat Ono, then moved to Jerusalem where she resides at the Golden Hill retirement home. Last week, the management decided to give her a 100th birthday party, and didn’t stop with a birthday cake. The event included entertainment by singer Brigitte Habib and keyboard instrumentalist Ari Bar-Eitan who performed a medley of French songs that brought tears of joy and nostalgia to Giesler’s eyes.
■ AMONG THE former British politicians admired by recently arrived British Ambassador Matthew Gould is Benjamin Disraeli, who twice served as prime minister. So it’s understandable that Gould was absolutely delighted when the time came to sign the Presidential Visitor’s Book after he had presented his credentials to President Shimon Peres, to be seated at a table that had once belonged to Disraeli. Gould could hardly contain his excitement as he turned to his wife Celia and showed her the sign detailing the provenance of the table
■ ALSO PRESENTING credentials was Norwegian Ambassador Svein Sevje. Peres and Sevje are old friends having worked together during the Oslo process. “Welcome back. I’m glad to see you,” the president greeted Sevje.
Peres was pleased to see him for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that Sevje could testify to the fact that contrary to common belief, Peres had not engineered his own Nobel Prize. Sevje recalled that it was almost 16 years to the day since he had come to Peres to tell him that he was to be awarded the Nobel Prize. “You’re my best witness that I didn’t organize it,” said Peres.
■ CANADA’S NEW ambassador, Paul Hunt, who was previously ambassador to Brazil, when presenting his credentials last week, told Peres that he had been taken to dinner to the Gazebo restaurant by Ambassador to Brazil Giora Becher, who had taken Peres there during the president’s visit to Brazil almost a year ago. The dish that Peres ordered, said Hunt, has now been named after him, and so Hunt, knowing he was coming to Israel, ordered it too. Hunt has not had time to relax. Immediately after bidding farewell to Peter Van Loan, Canada’s minister of international trade, at the conclusion of a two-day visit to promote closer commercial relations, including exploratory talks aimed at expanding the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, Hunt had to turn his attention to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet which begins the local leg of its 70th anniversary tour with a premiere performance at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on Thursday.
Van Loan, who emphasized the importance that Canada attaches to Israel, met with his counterpart Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. He also met with Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz. Canada is extremely interested in increasing its cooperation in science and technology, so he also met with Dr. Eli Opper, chief scientist at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, to discuss potential joint innovation initiatives. Van Loan also visited the Petah Tikva branch of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.
■ MOST OF the obituaries for actor Tony Curtis included a few details about his Jewish background, his rise to stardom and then his gradual decline. There was also mention that he had taken to painting, but there was very little of a truly personal nature. Celebrated filmmaker Arthur Cohn, who has won six Oscars and who divides his time between Basel, Jerusalem and Hollywood, filled in some of the gaps about his friend.
They met when Cohn won his second or third Oscar. Curtis was not at the awards ceremony but heard Cohn’s acceptance speech while in a car in San Francisco. He was impressed and decided that he wanted to meet Cohn. This was actually easy, because Curtis’s half-Jewish girlfriend Christine Kaufmann, who later became his wife, and her brother Guenther, a well known photographer, had both been friends of Cohn’s for a long time.
There was instant rapport between Curtis and Cohn, so when Curtis and Kaufmann got married in 1963, Cohn was invited as a witness. He was relatively new to Hollywood at the time, and the wedding was a memorable event for him because to get there the flew for the first time by helicopter from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, together with Kirk Douglas who was also a close friend of the groom, and who subsequently, together with his son Michael, became a close friend of Cohn’s. Several years later Michael Douglas was the narrator in Cohn’s film One Day in September about the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics.
Cohn remembers Curtis as being “very decent, interesting, interested and super loyal. He didn’t have many good friends and often seemed lonely. He was truly charming with everybody, and even in the coldest weather he gave autographs in the streets, wherever he was, being very happy to be recognized for his achievements in the motion pictures industry.”
■ THERE ARE people who come from staunch Zionist families, and who themselves are already third generation supporters of projects here, but who have never set foot in the country. Until recently, this description applied to Joan and Jay Eichler of Southern Florida, who last week visited for the first time along with Jay’s sister and brother-in-law Roberta and Marty Borg. High on their agenda of places to see was the Magen David Adom Blood Center because Joan’s late father Lewis Rosenberg was one of the founders of American Friends of Magen David Adom and one of its past presidents. He was also a founder of the MDA National Blood Center. Jay Eichler used to sit on the board of the American Friends.
They were overwhelmed by emotion as they saw the names of grandparents, parents, other relatives and family friends on the MDA donor plaques.
■ THERE WERE many who doubted that Arkadi Gaydamak, the generous philanthropist who was courted by all and in sundry, but who returned to Russia two years ago after a failure in his bid to become mayor of Jerusalem, would come back to stand trial on charges of money laundering. Gaydamak and his representatives told anyone who cared to ask that he would be back to face the music, but there were few who believed him. Well, he is back. His trial begins this week and in two weeks he hopes to be able to attend the home match between the Betar Jerusalem soccer team that he still owns and the Bnei Sakhnin team to which he gave a generous financial contribution.
■ THOUGH SEVERAL of the male guests at the wedding of Shiri Zohar and Tamir Birenbaum wore white shirts without jackets, and covered their heads with kippot instead of fedoras, only one of the guests dared to come in a red T-shirt and a baseball cap. It was one of the grandfathers of the bride – singer and actor Arik Einstein – whose life is linked with that of his former partner Uri Zohar, who 40 years ago abandoned the Bohemian lifestyle and became religiously observant.
Einstein and Zohar had acted in films together, had appeared on stage together and were close friends and business associates. When Zohar and his wife Elia became religious in the early 1970s, Einstein’s exwife Alona, with whom he had two daughters, tried to bring them back to their senses, but instead became enamored with religion herself, and until her death four years ago, lived a religious way of life. Like the Zohars, she abandoned the entertainment industry and concentrated on photography, building up an enviable reputation.
The two Einstein daughters married the two eldest Zohar boys, and between them produced a large number of offspring. There are even two great grandchildren. Einstein, who in recent years makes rare on-stage appearances and who barely socializes, does make an effort to turn up at most family celebrations. He did come to Jerusalem from his home in Tel Aviv to put in a brief appearance at the wedding.
■ RABBIS, POLITICIANS, business people and philanthropists galore flocked to the Jerusalem International Conference Center last week for the Elon-Belzberg wedding. The father of the groom was the charismatic Rabbi Motti Elon, who had good reason to smile after weathering the vicissitudes of a public outing at the hands of the Forum of Religious Zionist leaders. Some of Elon’s relatives and many of his students leapt to his defense, while Elon himself remained silent. Among the religious Zionist leaders who did not abandon him was his good friend Rabbi Haim Druckman, who was at the wedding, as was Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who has also survived the kind of character assassination that threatened to ruin his career. Another guest was former president Moshe Katsav, who is awaiting the verdict on his trial for sexual offenses.
■ DESPITE ALL the media speculation about the bad blood that exists between Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and his successor Yoav Galant, the two displayed great cooperation at the indoor soccer game at the Wingate Institute between an IDF team and Maccabi Haifa. The event was part of an IDF sports and fitness day in which both outgoing and incoming chiefs of General Staff proved that they were very fit, especially taking into account that they were double the age of most of their opponents.
Ashkenazi, who scored all four IDF goals in the tie, is 56 and Galant is 52. The two sat alongside each other on the bench during time out and Galant was quick to shake hands with Ashkenazi after he scored his final goal. Is it possible that all that speculation about animosity between the two was just hot air?
■ THE JEWISH community of Hebron has festive events several times a year to which it invites people from all over the country as well as tourists. Now, it’s the turn of the Palestinian community of Hebron, which is holding a traditional food festival on October 19, as part of an ongoing project to preserve Palestinian culture as a means of contributing to the economy, and as a way of getting to know people outside of Hebron socially. Run by the Steering Committee for Reviving the Old City of Hebron, the festival is one of a series of events designed to accompany efforts to have Hebron listed as a UNESCO heritage site. The festival begins at noon in the Khan Shahin area. For further information, contact Walid Abu al- Halaweh at (02) 222-6994.