Grapevine January 8, 2020: Realizing Ben-Gurion’s vision

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

FROM LEFT: Mira Altman is presented with a gift from Jerusalem International Convention Center Chairman David Shimron and Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog upon her retirement from the JICC. (photo credit: GUY YEHIELI)
FROM LEFT: Mira Altman is presented with a gift from Jerusalem International Convention Center Chairman David Shimron and Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog upon her retirement from the JICC.
(photo credit: GUY YEHIELI)
She wasn’t given the traditional gold watch in appreciation for long service when she stepped down from her role as executive director of the Jerusalem International Convention Center, but Mira Altman, who after 19 years resigned because she believes that younger people should be given a chance to show their mettle, received something that is perhaps much closer to her heart. In a modest farewell ceremony presided over by JICC Chairman David Shimron and Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, Altman was presented with a personally inscribed copy of a scroll that was written at the inception of JICC, which is popularly known by its Hebrew name of Binyenei Ha’uma (“the buildings of the nation”). And indeed, many of the nation’s most important gatherings and ceremonies have been held there.
The farewell for Altman took place in Herzog’s office, which was originally the office of David Ben-Gurion for a 20-year period during the era of the British Mandate and after he initially became prime minister. The Jewish Agency is a part-owner of the JICC. The text of the original scroll, which was written in 1950, bears the signatures of the president of the state, the prime minister, members of the Jewish Agency Executive, members of Knesset and other prominent figures. The facsimiles of these signatures are on the copy that was given to Altman. The construction of the building was completed in 1952.
In the inscription dedicated to her, Altman is lauded as the person who transformed Binyenei Ha’uma into a world-class international convention center.
It should be remembered that Altman took up her position at the height of the Second Intifada.
The two shareholders of Binyenei Ha’uma, the Jewish Agency (75%) and the Jerusalem Municipality (25%), were united in appointing Altman in 2001. In addition to serving as a convention center, Binyenei Ha’uma over the years has hosted the Jerusalem International Book Fair, opera and dance performances, concerts by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and other international orchestras, fashion shows, product launches, movies, weddings and many other events.
Shimron said it was greatly symbolic to be saying farewell to Altman in the very room in which Ben-Gurion had signed the foundation scroll for Binyenei Ha’uma on January 25, 1950, because it was Altman who brought Ben-Gurion’s vision for the project to reality.
Herzog spoke of Altman’s professionalism and her impressive achievements.
Altman thanked Shimron, Herzog, a series of Jerusalem mayors from Ehud Olmert to Nir Barkat to current Mayor Moshe Lion and their respective executives for their unstinting cooperation and the confidence which they placed in her. Relating to current expansion plans, Altman said she was certain that once completed, Binyenei Ha’uma would become not only the largest convention center in the Middle East, but one of the best in the world. The expansion project is in line with the master plan for the new gateway to Jerusalem, which was launched under Barkat and is being continued by Lion.
■ ALSO LEAVING his post after a fairly long stint is Daniel Mush Meyer, after 11½ years as executive director of the International Young Israel Movement. He is resigning “to allow new blood and new energy to carry the organization forward.”
Among the highlights of his tenure at IYIM, as far as Meyer is concerned, have been the opportunities to work with a great team to bring joy to hundreds of deaf and hearing-impaired children, youths and young adults in Israel, including an annual bar/bat mitzvah program; reaching out to countless couples to encourage them to sign prenuptial and postnuptial agreements that have saved so many from unbearable anguish; supplying and dedicating many Torah scrolls to IDF and Border Police bases; working closely with communities in Sderot and Karmiel, and much more. He is particularly appreciative of the various program directors who include: Rabbi Chanoch Yeres, Dr. Rachel Levmore, Rabbi Alex Yeres, David and Yael Spanglet, Igal Bracha, Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz and Rabbi Yedidya Atlas, as well as all his faithful office staff who worked so selflessly for the benefit of others.
■ THIS PAST year had been intended as a special year in Lithuania in tribute to the memory of the Vilna Gaon, Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, on the 300th anniversary of his birth. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced cancellation of many of the plans, but quite a number of cultural events were committed to videos. One of these will be hosted by the Lithuanian Embassy in cooperation with the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania on Monday, January 11, at 6 p.m. Viewers will be able to tour a virtual exhibition led by Dr. Lara Lempertienė under the title of Shnot Eliyahu – Elijah’s Years: The impact of Vilna Gaon on Lithuanian Jewish Culture. The tour will be in English with Hebrew subtitles. The event is accessible on Zoom at the embassy’s Facebook page.
■ IN MARCH 2018, when World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder and Malcolm Hoenlein, who was then the outgoing executive vice chairman of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, were honored by Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue by having the walls on either side of the Ark named in perpetuity in their names and those of their wives, it never occurred to Hoenlein, a frequent visitor to Jerusalem, that he would one day be the president of the synagogue.
That day arrived last week when he was unanimously elected by the Great Synagogue Council chaired by Daniel Plaut.
Zalli Jaffe, who for about a decade has been the acting president of the Great Synagogue following the resignation of former president Rabbi David Fuld, is now deputy president, but will probably be doing much the same as he did as acting president, given that Hoenlein lives in the US.
Even before the advent of the pandemic, Jaffe announced that the synagogue would be closed for several months for extensive renovations. However, the Sephardi congregation, which has a small, intimate and very beautiful sanctuary on the ground floor of the building, continued to hold services, albeit not indoors but in the plaza at the entrance to the building for most of last year.
In August, Jaffe announced that the synagogue would remain closed for the High Holy Days. This was devastating news not only to local congregants but to the many people in different countries who had long maintained a tradition of coming to Jerusalem for the High Holy Days, attending services at the Great Synagogue and in many cases, remaining in the country until after Sukkot.
The synagogue has still not reopened, and will remain closed until such time as health authorities permit more than a severely limited number of people to congregate for services.
In the announcement they published about Hoenlein, Jaffe and Plaut stated that as soon as it is safely allowed to do so, the synagogue will reopen. When that date arrives, Hoenlein will be given a festive reception.
Hoenlein, who is now the executive vice president of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, keeps his finger firmly on the pulse of the Jewish world. He is also a brilliant orator, which means that whenever he comes to Jerusalem in the future, the Great Synagogue, where he has addressed congregants on previous occasions, will not let him off the hook. Once the synagogue reopens, Hoenlein’s presence and eloquence will undoubtedly attract new members.
■ TABLOID NEWSPAPERS regularly publish stories about seriously ill people, especially those with life-threatening diseases who are unable to get the medications they desperately need because those medications are not included in the health basket. But there is a voluntary organization, Friends for Medicine, which collects surplus medications from people who no longer need to use them, and if the date has not expired, distributes them free of charge to people who can’t afford them, thereby helping to save many lives.
Tens of millions of shekels worth of medications are collected in this manner each year. In a very moving ceremony held at the Health Ministry, Friends of Medicine director-general Rabbi Baruch Liberman received a special health award for 2020 from Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Chezy Levy.
The adjudicating committee that selected Friends of Medicine noted that during the pandemic the organization had fulfilled its mission under the most trying, near-impossible circumstances, and had supplied medications to sick and needy people all over the country.
Liberman disclosed that the value of medications collected and redistributed over the past year to more than 6,000 people was in excess of NIS 85 million. Among the volunteers working with the organization are close to 30 pharmacists who help to process and repackage the thousands of boxes of surplus medications that arrive daily at the organization’s Bnei Brak headquarters. With the outbreak of the coronavirus, Liberman said, the organization established a corona hotline, which during lockdowns responded to thousands of phone calls from people who were unable to secure medications, especially people in the at-risk age group who had been forced to quarantine themselves. All requests for medications had been met and were delivered door to door.
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