WHILE NO one would wish to rob any of the valiant people who were involved in the struggle for Soviet Jewry of the recognition due to them, there is a need to set the record straight. In last Friday's Jerusalem Post Magazine, Zvi Raviv and Yona Yahav were credited with making prime minister Golda Meir aware of the Soviet Jewry issue. While there is no doubt that they were in the forefront of Israeli activism for Soviet Jewry, there is also no doubt that Meir, having previously served as ambassador to the Soviet Union, was very much aware of the plight of Soviet Jewry. Moreover, Nativ, the covert liaison bureau to Soviet Jewry which was established in 1952 as a unit in the Prime Minister's Office by former Hagana commander Shaul Avigur, reported regularly to then prime minister Moshe Sharett and to all subsequent prime ministers. In 1959, a young Australian University graduate who would later rise to the top leadership position in the Australian Jewish community was recruited by Avigur to launch a campaign for Soviet Jews. The young Australian was Isi Leibler, who eventually became the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and who is today a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post. In 1962, just as it had been the first country at the UN to vote in favor of the resolution for the partition of Palestine in November, 1947, Australia became the first country to broach the plight of Soviet Jewry at the UN. It should also be remembered that Australia was one of the few countries that opened its gates to Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler's Europe and to Holocaust survivors who sought to build new lives after the war.
JUST A little over a month ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day which is commemorated on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, representatives of more than 50 countries will gather at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem on December 16-17 to participate in the Global Forum for Combatting Anti-Semitism under the joint chairmanship of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Minister for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein. The global forum was established in 2000 by then minister for Diaspora affairs Michael Melchior and current Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, the most famous of former prisoners of Zion.
It is no coincidence that this prestigious assembly will take place during Hanukka, which commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over a virulent form of physical and religious persecution. Forum participants include statesmen, parliamentarians, diplomats, journalists, human rights activists, legal experts, NGO representatives, prominent academics and leaders of Jewish communities and Jewish organizations.
Among the largest delegations, other than Israel, is that of Canada, whose representatives include lawyer and human rights activist David Matas, who has successfully brought Nazi war criminals to trial. Matas is also an outspoken critic of the alleged killing of Falun Gong practitioners in China for the purpose of marketing their organs. Together with David Kilgour, he has written a book on the subject: Bloody Harvest - The Killing of Falun Gong for their Organs that was launched last month in Ottawa by the Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Falun Gong. Matas will have an Israel launch of the book on December 15 at the Hebrew Writers Association in Tel Aviv.
Another very important participant is Prof. Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a former foreign minister of Poland, who in addition to being a social activist and politician is also a journalist, writer and historian. A survivor of Auschwitz, a resistance fighter in the Polish Home Army, and from September 1942, a member of the Provisional Committee to Aid Jews, Bartoszewski who has visited Israel several times, also has honorary citizenship. Yad Vashem named him as Righteous among the Nations in 1963 and has a close relationship with him. Bartoszewski can be seen in Warsaw at the annual commemorations of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. While here, he will participate in a Hanukka celebration hosted by Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska at her residence in Kfar Shmaryahu.
TURKEY'S NEW ambassador, Oguz Celikkol, will be the last of five ambassadors presenting their credentials to President Shimon Peres today. The others are Henry Hansonof Ghana, Kyriakos Loukakis of Greece, Andrew Standley of the European Commission and Roberto Eduardo Arango of Panama. Because five is the maximum number of ambassadors who can present their credentials on any given day, there are others such as Sri Lanka's G. Donald Perera and Colombia's Isaac Gilinski Sragowicz waiting for the next round of presentations. Albanian Charge d'Affaires Qirijako Kureta is waiting to see whether his country's next ambassador will be sent in from abroad or whether his Foreign Ministry will decide to promote him. Several other embassies are currently headed by a charge d'affaires in the absence of an ambassador.
THE POSITION of Ambassador Andrew Standley, the new head of the European Commission to the State of Israel, will be short lived. There's no danger of Standley, who arrived here in October, being recalled. But as of January 1, he will no longer be head of delegation of the European Commission. Instead, he will be head of the Delegation of the European Union. Standley was previously here in the 1970s working as a kibbutz volunteer. He met his wife Yehudit, who's a nurse and midwife, when both were working for the UN in Bangladesh. She has done a lot of work for UNESCO. She's American, he's British. She's Jewish, he's not. But their marriage in California was performed by a rabbi and they have a ketuba to prove it.
THE FACT that the European Union will no longer have a rotating presidency does not mean that Spain, whose turn it would have been in January, will miss out entirely. According to Spanish Ambassador Alvaro Irenzo Gutierrez, there will be a transitional period in which Spain will have a role to play.
IT MAY not be common knowledge, but before he entered the political arena, MK Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, dreamed of being a karate master. Hanegbi, 52, has been practicing karate since he was 10, and was taught by one of the first Japanese masters to come here. "I counted in Japanese. I yelled in Japanese and I was yelled at in Japanese," he revealed last week at a luncheon at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Jerusalem hosted by Japanese Ambassador Harushisa Takeuchi for members of the Knesset's Japan Friendship League and a delegation of Japanese business people and journalists. Hanegbi also wanted to practice karate in Japan and eventually realized that wish when he paid an official visit while environment minister.
Takeuchi, who speaks fluent English, welcomed his guests in halting Hebrew, switching momentarily to English to explain that he was going to give his address in Japanese, simply because he wanted to hear the language. A simultaneous translation into Hebrew was provided by Kenji Goto, third secretary in the embassy's Protocol and Politics Department, who happens to be a graduate of the Hebrew University, but whose Hebrew is not quite as fluent as that of head of the Protocol Department Mitsuhiko Shinomiya, whose Hebrew is excellent and without any trace of a Japanese accent.
MK Shai Hermesh, who heads the Friendship League, noted the diversity of his members, who not only represent the Knesset's political spectrum, but include males and females, Jews and non-Jews, haredim and secular, Ashkenazim and Sephardim. In addition to Hermesh and Hanegbi, members of the league who attended included Ya'acov Litzman, Taleb a-Sanaa, who took time out from Id al-Adha celebrations; Rachel Adato, David Rotem, Anastasia Michaeli and Faina Kirschenbaum.
ROMANIAN AMBASSADOR Edward Iosiper and his wife Tatiana this year decided to celebrate their country's National Day at their residence in Herzliya Pituah instead of at a Tel Aviv hotel. Events of this kind almost always start with the playing of the national anthems of the ambassador's country and that of the host country. Guests gathered on the patio - and waited, and waited and waited... until finally the ambassador decided that it would be speeches first and anthems later. Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver represented the government.
Both Iosiper and Landver noted that when the Eastern Bloc countries severed relations with Israel after the Six Days War, Romania was the only country that maintained ties. These ties have been constant for six decades. The foreign ministries of both countries in June issued statements in celebration of 60 years of uninterrupted diplomacy. In the last week of November, President Traian Basescu attended a ceremony in Bucharest marking the release of a joint Romanian-Israeli postage stamp issue celebrating the fact that the first Yiddish theater in the world opened in 1876 in Iasi, Romania. A similar philatelic event was subsequently held here.
APROPOS YIDDISH, a century ago, Czernowitz in Romania was selected for the first world Yiddish conference. Jews were not permitted such large scale public gatherings in Vilna or Warsaw. The Romanians took a far more liberal attitude, making Czernowitz a natural choice. Czernowitz featured prominently this week at the International Academic Conference "A Century of Yiddish 1908-2008" held at the Givat Ram Campus of the Hebrew University. Participants were totally enamored by a documentary film, Yiddish Czernowitz, made by Boris Sandler, editor of the Yiddish Forward of New York, and Chana Pollack, and clamored to be able to buy a copy. So far there's only the master video, but Sandler promised that copies would soon be available.
His own story is no less remarkable than his nostalgic tribute to Czernowitz and a Jewish world that is no more.He was born in Belz, graduated from the Kishinev Music Conservatory, went to Moscow to further his musical career and wrote for Sovietish Heimland. He then went back to Kishinev and started a Yiddish radio station, came to Israel and after a few years relocated yet again to take up his present position. In addition to being a musician and journalist, he also writes novels and plays - in Yiddish of course.
THAI NATIONAL Day is celebrated on the birthday of King Bhumibol, who was born on December 5, 1927. Greatly loved and revered, the king has inspired his people to great accomplishments in many fields, and is quite an accomplished individual himself. The Thais are great on aesthetics, and although there weren't the traditional Thai fruit and vegetable sculptures, there were magnificent, breathtaking floral arrangements all over the Yam Restaurant in the Dan Hotel Tel Aviv. Ambassador Chatchaded Chartsuwan and Minister for the Improvement of Government Services Michael Eitan, who represented the government, spoke.
As far as cuisine was concerned, many of the guests were ecstatic about the authentic Thai offerings which were prepared by a Thai chef specially flown in for the occasion.
AS A curtain raiser for its film festival, currently at the Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv Cinematheques, the Indian Embassy, in conjunction with Cinema Park and the India Israel Friendship Association, held a special screening at Cinema Park in Beit Agron, Jerusalem, where guests included popular Indian actor Anupam Kher and filmmaker Amol Palekar and his wife. The Palekars have been here before and said that they absolutely love Jerusalem.
Also present was Haim Topol who stars in The Jerusalem Time Elevator, a fast moving documentary that covers several periods of Jerusalem's history in a most riveting manner. The film, made by Ori Yardeni, founder and CEO of Cinema Park Network, was shown together with India in Motion of which Anupam Kher is the star. IIFA President Anat Bernstein-Reich said that Topol is well known in India, where many people have seen Fiddler on the Roof.
Indian Ambassador Navtej Sarna noted that both Palekar and Kher were "fundamental influences on Indian theater" and credited Palekar with redefining Bollywood. Edutainment of the nature of the two films was a very important development, he said, referring specifically to some 35,000 Israelis who go to India each year.
WHEN HE was in Jerusalem last month for the Saban forum, former US president Bill Clinton was given the same red carpet treatment he had received when in office. Clinton has always been popular here and continues to be so. Clinton did not spend all his time at the conference table. He also paid a visit to the Western Wall and was guided through its tunnels by Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.
n In addition, Clinton went wandering through the galleries at Hutzot Hayotzer. He stopped off at the Greenvurcel Judaica Gallery where he admired the ritual objects, particularly the new innovative designs of the Hanukka menorot. He also displayed a surprising degree of knowledge about Jewish customs and traditions. At the gallery of artist Motke Blum, he not only stopped to look, but actually purchased a painting. For Blum, every buyer is special, but Clinton was extra special.
In the interim, Clinton's daughter Chelsea and her long time boyfriend investment banker Marc Mezvinsky announced their engagement. The young couple plan to marry in the summer, which will put something of a strain on Chelsea's mom, who has to juggle wedding arrangements with her job as secretary of state. But Madeleine Albright managed to plan a wedding while she was secretary of state and she's offered to help Hillary Clinton do the same.
FEDERATION OF Chambers of Commerce President Uriel Lynn and his predecessor Dan Gillerman have always been on the best of terms, and will now have better relations than ever before since Gillerman's appointment last week as chairman of Markstone Capital Partners. Gillerman, who left his position at the FCC to become ambassador to the UN, had many tempting offers after his return, but the challenge of making sure that Markstone stays afloat - after its founding chairman Elliott Broidy was forced to step down, after confessing to having made illegal payments to senior New York officials - apparently appealed to him. Markstone was very active in the work of the FCC, said Lynn, who believes that it will be even more so with Gillerman at the helm.
MAYBE YOU can't have your cake and eat it - but you can have your schnitzel. Singer Avi Toledano, while filming a schnitzel commercial for Off Tov, sat down to genuinely enjoy a schnitzel with the company's CEO Moti Goldberg during the break.
THE COUNTRY'S most widely read Hebrew daily, Yediot Aharonot, this week celebrates its 70th anniversary, and on Friday will publish a special supplement. While it may have the largest number of readers, Yediot - which was founded in December 1939 by Nahum Kumarov who sold it to Yehuda Mozes, who ran it with his son Noah, and is now being run by Noah's son Noni - is not the oldest daily newspaper. That honor belongs to Haaretz which was founded in 1919, was purchased by Shlomo Zalman Schocken in 1937 and given to his son Gershom to manage. It is today published by Gershom's son Amos.
Other daily papers, particularly those run by political parties, fell by the wayside. Ma'ariv was founded in February 1948 by a breakaway group from Yediot led by then editor Azriel Carlebach. Today, the paper, which in its early years outpaced Yediot in readership, is run by the Nimrodi family. The second oldest daily newspaper is The Jerusalem Post, founded on December 1, 1932 by Gershon Agron who edited it until 1955, when he was elected mayor of Jerusalem.
Hamodia, the religious daily, is probably the oldest surviving daily newspaper of its kind. It was founded in Eastern Europe a hundred years ago, stopped publication during World War II and was revived here in 1950.