Grapevine February 12, 2021: The walk to freedom

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
 ■ FORMER PRISONER of Zion Natan Sharansky has become such a familiar figure in Israel that a whole generation of adults grew up without experiencing the sense of unity that transcended political party lines in the struggle to secure his freedom from a Soviet prison. On Thursday, February 11, Sharansky, who celebrated his 73rd birthday in January, marked the 35th anniversary of his release and walk to freedom across the Glienicke Bridge in Potsdam, East Germany, as he was led by US ambassador Richard Burt. Sharansky was released in a trilateral prisoner-exchange deal involving the US, West Germany and the Soviet Union, following an intensive international campaign led by his wife, Avital. He was the first political prisoner released by Mikhail Gorbachev.
■ THERE ARE countries that are frequently in the news in Israel, such as the US, the UK, Russia, India and China, and those that seldom appear unless that country is undergoing political strife or martial war, such as Myanmar. Among the lesser publicized countries is Sri Lanka, which has had a somewhat turbulent relationship with Israel, having initially established bilateral relations in 1956. These relations were suspended in the 1970s during the second term of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, when Sri Lanka and the Maldives were among the few first countries to recognize a Palestinian state. Sri Lanka almost invariably votes in favor of the Palestinians at the United Nations.
Relations with Israel were restored in 2000, although there had been contacts in the interim.
Israel helped in the training of Sri Lanka’s armed forces in their battle with the Tamil Liberation Tigers, and also sold military equipment to Sri Lanka. Israel also helped Sri Lanka update its agricultural production methods.
In November 1986, president Chaim Herzog, in the course of a three weeks visit to Australia, Asia and the Pacific, paid a surprise rapprochement visit to Sri Lanka, which had not been among the countries on his schedule. Journalists traveling with Herzog were informed of their destination just before the plane landed.
Sri Lanka is also among those countries which have re-opened its gates to foreign tourists. Full details of the safety protocols applying to passengers have been published by the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka and can be accessed online at
Meanwhile, the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Israel together with the Sri Lanka Chamber of Commerce, Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, and the Board of Investment (BoI) of Sri Lanka, will host a webinar at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, February 16, aimed at introducing Israeli entrepreneurs to investment opportunities in Sri Lanka. Participants will include: Ambassador Waruna Wilpatha, Honorary Consul for Israel in Sri Lanka Wick Wickramatunga, Deputy Director of Sri Lanka’s Investment Promotion BoI Sudat Jayesakar, Executive Director of Investment Promotion BoI Prasanjith Wijayatilake, and Director of Investment Promotion BoI Nilupul De Silva. Webinar Registration is with the Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce.
■ PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL and former Likud MK Yehudah Glick will be the keynote speaker at a live Zoom meeting on Wednesday, February 24, at 8 p.m., hosted by the Christian publication Israel Today. Glick will discuss the upcoming Knesset election, US-Israel relations in the post-Trump era, peace with Arab nations and what that might mean prophetically, and the biblical significance of Christian involvement in the Jewish nation. Glick will also discuss his ongoing battle for Jews to be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, and will answer questions on this and other subjects. For registration details go to
■ IN NOVEMBER 2019, when British Airways was celebrating its centenary year, it searched for its most veteran employee who, as it happened, was actually older than the airline itself and living in Israel. His name is Alex Zielony. At the time, he was 103 years old and was accorded the pomp and ceremony associated with the airline’s milestone anniversary. 
Zielony was also among the pioneers of the Israel Air Force. This week, his name came up again in line with another milestone, the jubilee of the cable car to Masada. An engineer by training who apparently keeps track of important anniversaries, Zielony, a year ago, according to an article in Yediot Aharonot, sent a letter to the Nature and Parks Authority with the information that he had been employed by the Swiss Karl Brändle company as a member of the team that constructed the cable car. He wrote that he also has photographs. 
The letter kindled a lot of interest and curiosity which prompted Noa Gordon, who is responsible for Masada within the Nature Authority, to visit Zielony at his home in Tel Aviv’s Tzahala neighborhood. Zielony told her that construction had taken a long time, and that a special hangar had been built in which to assemble all the parts that had been brought by helicopter from Switzerland. Proud of his connection to what had then been a pioneering venture, Zielony said he felt part of Jewish history by helping to build a cable car that since 1971 has enabled more people to reach the top of Masada. Without the cable car, many would not have lasted the distance for the ascent.
Organizers hope that he will be able to participate in the jubilee celebration.
■ REGULAR READERS of The Jerusalem Post are familiar with the finger-on-the-pulse writing of Isi Leibler, who is featured in The Jerusalem Post Magazine today. The extensive material provides readers with some insight into the man behind the byline, and if they want to know even more, they can see and hear him on Zoom on Thursday, March 4, at 10:30 a.m., when he will be addressing the Herzliya Cultural Group. In order to register, contact Werner Buchmann at (054) 456-0303 or visit the HCG website:
Leibler is a seasoned speaker who has been addressing live audiences in several countries on four continents for well over half a century. The interview will be of particular interest to people who were involved in the extraordinary world-wide Jewish effort, which Leibler pioneered, to secure freedom of religion and migration for Soviet Jewry. But there were many other strings to his bow, and he will also touch on these.
■ AMAZING HOW easy it is to overlook the obvious. In last Wednesday’s Grapevine, the names of diplomats born or raised in English-speaking countries, which had been omitted from a previous item about them, were listed with a request to readers who knew of any others who should have been included. Jeremy Issacharoff, Israel’s British-born ambassador to Germany, should have been in one of the two previous listings, as should the name of American-born Dore Gold, who served as Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations and as director-general of the Foreign Ministry. Anyone aware of any others whose names have not been published is requested to help complete the list.
■ WHILE ENTERTAINMENT-industry icons have been delivering premature obituaries for culture in Israel, the Jerusalem Foundation Inc., working locally and in New York, has been preparing for the return to normal life, and this week announced the awarding of 45 grants totaling $1.25 million to culture and community initiatives throughout Jerusalem as part of the new Jerusalem Foundation Community and Culture Innovation Fund. The fund was established in autumn 2020 to preserve Jerusalem’s vitality by encouraging institutions and organizations across the city to create innovative models for navigating these unprecedented times and flourishing afterward.
The foundation’s first call for proposals in November 2020 generated nearly 200 submissions, and this first funding cycle includes grants to recipients with long-standing ties to the foundation, as well as first-time support to emerging organizations to advance their contributions to the city’s future.
Grant awards range from $10,000-$50,000. JFI chairman of the board Alan Hassenfeld, executive chairman James Snyder, president Shai Doron, and director of projects with responsibility for overseeing grants Ruth Diskin expressed gratification at the response by individuals and foundations across America in donating funds toward strengthening Jerusalem’s social fabric and cultural vitality at a time when philanthropy in general has been focused on urgent needs closer to home.
However, the foundation is not resting on its laurels, and plans are afoot to expand the innovation fund over the next few months so that more of the capital’s cultural ventures can be supported.