Grapevine: A unique place

Matzot, wine and gefilte fish were sent from Israel, but there were no tables and chairs.

FROM LEFT: El Al CEO Gonen Ussishkin, Aleh Negev Nahalat Eran chairman Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, and Aleh cofounder and CEO Rabbi Yehuda Marmorstein (photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
FROM LEFT: El Al CEO Gonen Ussishkin, Aleh Negev Nahalat Eran chairman Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, and Aleh cofounder and CEO Rabbi Yehuda Marmorstein
(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
Last Sunday, a conference on applications of artificial intelligence was held at IDC Herzliya in honor of the 25th anniversary of its establishment by IDC president and founder Prof. Uriel Reichman. The conference hosted prominent academics among its keynote speakers, including 2005 Nobel Prize laureate for Economic Sciences Prof. Israel Aumann; Mobileye co-founder Prof. Amnon Shashua; chair of the Planning and Budgets Committee of the Council for Higher Education Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats; and eBay chief scientist and director of data science Dr. Kira Radinsky. The conference was organized by IDC Provost Prof. Alex Mintz and Prof. Moshe Ben-Bassat.
The occasion was also used for the first-ever conferring of a PhD by IDC Herzliya. The recipient was Prof. Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, who received his new status from Reichman, Mintz and IDC board of directors chairman Oudi Recanati. Wrighton was chosen for the honor “in recognition of his creativity, singular thought leadership, sustained growth management and significant contribution to science, academia and society in the United States of America and internationally.”
In the scroll read out in front of the distinguished guests, it was stated that Wrighton “has been a strong voice for academic freedom, discussion and debate, vigorously opposing the boycott of academia in Israel; mentor to thousands and door opener for countless students. In the years following his appointment, the university has made significant progress in student quality, campus improvements, resource development, curriculum and international reputation; a great supporter of the local Hillel and Chabad House, and has co-hosted, with his wife, Ms. Risa Zwerling Wrighton, Passover eve Seder dinners, and other holiday and Shabbat meals.”
In his lecture, Aumann noted that IDC Herzliya is different from other institutions of higher learning, and characterized it as “an institution that is truly unique in the Israeli academic landscape. We have many colleges in Israel that do not grant PhDs, and the other institutions, the universities that grant a doctorate, are made up of one piece. IDC Herzliya is different, and it reflects the need for competition in higher education. Although tuition is high, tuition for a year in budgeted institutions is absurdly low, because it subsidizes the rich. Who goes to the universities? Mainly people from the upper social class, which the state subsidizes with almost zero tuition fees. I think that there should be reasonable tuition, while giving scholarships and grants, generous help to people who need it.”
Aumann also referred to the strike by academic staff at the colleges and the employment structure in institutions of higher education: “One way to deal with this is differential payment, as is customary in the United States,” he said. “This gives you the incentive to become a better lecturer and conduct high-quality research. If everyone gets the same thing, it is actually socialism in higher education. Differential wages will lead to competition and new ideas, which is how evolution and economics work. If an institution can innovate there is progress, but if almost all institutions are under the same government regulation, they will not get progress.”
■ ANY REASON is a good reason for a celebration, and the Musicians of Tomorrow are celebrating the bat mitzvah of their establishment by Dr. Anna Rosnovsky, the former first violinist for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra who stepped back from that prestigious role in order to open new doors for musically talented youngsters in the northern periphery of the country. Some of the youngsters who started out with Musicians of Tomorrow have gone on to promising careers in music. The bat mitzvah concert is being hosted at the Herzliya Pituah home of Doreen and Alan Gainsford in conjunction with Rosnovsky and Evelyn and Howard Ross.
Back in the days of the struggle for Soviet Jewry, Gainsford and Ross were active in Britain’s 35 Campaign for Soviet Jewry. Rosnovsky was among the Soviet Jews who wanted to come to Israel. She and her family were finally able to immigrate to Israel in 1974. She joined the IPO in 1979 and 12 years ago, together with Maxim Vengerov gave new purpose and a greater sense of self-esteem to musically gifted youngsters in the peripheral communities in the North.
■ AFTER PLAYING God in the 2003 comedy Bruce Almighty, Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman came to Israel just over three years ago to tell The Story of God, a series for the National Geographic channel that focuses on historical sites around the world related to the subject of God.
Now he has a somewhat different Israel connection – he’s been selected as the presenter for Tadiran Air Conditioners. In a humorous series of video presentations, Freeman, 81, talks about how some confuse him with God due to the impact of Bruce Almighty. Some even address him as God. Toward the end of the presentation Freeman tries to persuade viewers that he’s not really God, and that the only thing he really controls is the air in his home because he owns a Tadiran air conditioner.
Freeman did not come to Israel for the video shoot. That took place in New York at the elegant Castle Hotel and Spa in Manhattan, which was more or less in line with Tadiran’s marketing strategy, which is going global and therefore should reflect the good life not only in Israel, but in the world.
■ AS A SOLDIER, Israel Prize laureate Doron Almog, a former IDF major-general, participated in some very daunting missions, including Operation Entebbe. Fast forward, he was head of Southern Command before leaving the IDF to give his full attention to his son, Eran, who was born with severe autism. Eran never spoke through all of his 23 years. He never once addressed his father who loved him so much, embraced him and taught him to swim.
At Eran’s funeral, Almog lamented the fact that his son had never called him “Abba,” but also paid tribute to his son for imbuing him with compassion and making him a better person. It was when Eran was still living and there was no proper facility in which he could do whatever he was capable of doing that Doron Almog decided to create such a facility, not only for his son, but for every person who suffered from mental or physical disabilities. He joined forces with Rabbi Yehudah Marmorstein, and thus Aleh came into being.
No-one knows what goes on in someone else’s brain. People can be diagnosed as having intellectual disabilities based on certain tests, but that doesn’t make them totally incapable. They may even be geniuses in some spheres, but because they are not tested in areas where they might shine, they are diagnosed on the basis of their disability.
Few researchers think to test such people for anything else. Proof that some of them may have an aptitude for engineering and/or design can be seen in the model of the El Al plane that some of these individuals made with the help of their parents. The plane was displayed at an emotional but festive ceremony in El Al’s King David Lounge at Ben-Gurion Airport within the framework of a fund raising effort called “Money – Big and Small.”
El Al has long been a supporter of Aleh and of Alut, the Israel Society for Autistic Children. Working in cooperation with Bank Hapoalim, El Al asks foreign passengers departing Israel, or Israeli passengers departing from other destinations that are on El Al routes to donate whatever small change they have from the countries which they visited, and the envelopes in which the coins and small denomination bank notes are placed, are passed on to Bank Hapoalim, which counts the money and converts it to shekels. The project works on the principle of the old English proverb: “Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.”
■ EVERY YEAR on the eve of Passover, the voice of Rabbi Chezki Lifshitz can be heard on Israel’s electronic media. Lifshitz is the rabbi of Kathmandu, where the largest Seder in the world is held annually. Even the most irreligious Jewish backpackers find their way to Kathmandu for the Seder, and the Chabad rabbi never turns anyone away. The Seders in Kathmandu have been a source of attraction not only for those who attend them but also for the international media for the past 30 years.
It all began when then-Israel ambassador Shmuel Moyal, believing that Israeli backpackers in Nepal might want to get together on Seder night, hung up a sign in a popular restaurant announcing a Seder and asking people to sign up.
He expected to host around 30 guests, but when 90 people signed up, he realized that the project was beyond his scope and turned to the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneersohn for help.
Moyal had previously served as consul in New York, at which time he had met the Rebbe and he knew that he could rely on the Rebbe’s wisdom. The Rebbe did more than offer advice. He sent several yeshiva students.
But this was in the pre-Internet era. Conditions were primitive, and the Rebbe had instructed his young disciples to find as many Jews as possible.
They thought that maybe the people who had already signed up would bring a few more with them, and the numbers would swell to around 150. Beyond all that, they had to find a suitable venue and they had to get supplies and do the cooking.
Matzot, wine and gefilte fish were sent from Israel, but there were no tables and chairs. The ambassador’s young helpers traveled for two hours over the mountains with card tables that they had managed to acquire, but the tables were too low for Seder tables. Fortunately, there was a hotel under construction in the area and the builder offered to lend them all their doors to place on top of the card tables. Meanwhile, the word spread and on Seder night 500 young Jews from more than a half-dozen countries showed up.
The following year, some other yeshiva students came to prepare the Seder in conjunction with the Israel Embassy. But there was a problem in that Nepal was in the midst of a civil war. The embassy was thinking of canceling, but the Rebbe told the young Chabadniks to carry on with their mission. More than 700 people came – and nearly all were secular but wanted to be together with other Jews at that time of the year.
Attendance kept growing from year to year and is now well in excess of 1,500. The Kathmandu Seder has become a legend in the Jewish world. Lifshitz and his wife, Chani, have been the co-directors of Nepal’s Chabad Center and the Kathmandu Seder since 2000.
Lifshitz will be in Jerusalem on Monday evening, January 14, as the special guest of Rabbi Yisrael Goldberg at Chabad of Rehavia, 52 King George Street. The occasion is the commemoration of the passing of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzhak, on the 14th of Shvat on the Hebrew calendar. It was also on the 14th of Shvat many years earlier that Yosef Yitzhak became the sixth Rebbe in the Chabad dynasty.
[email protected]