Grapevine: Jerusalem Calling

This week in social news.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin at the Kremlin in Moscow (photo credit: REUTERS)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin at the Kremlin in Moscow
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As has been previously mentioned in this column with reference to singer, actor, author and television and radio personality Yehoram Gaon, you can take the man out of Jerusalem, but you can’t take Jerusalem out of the man.
Gaon was born and raised in Jerusalem.
He served on the Jerusalem City Council from 1993 to 2002, holding the arts and culture portfolio and also that of special needs education. Since then, he has frequently performed in Jerusalem, and compared to any other Israeli singer he arguably has the most comprehensive repertoire of songs about Jerusalem.
On Sunday, February 11, on the eve of the 15th annual Jerusalem Conference, he will receive the Jerusalem Prize at the International Jerusalem Convention Center and will also launch an album that contains his major hits from all the phases of his career spanning more than half a century.
Considering that this year’s Jerusalem Conference is within the framework of Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations, Gaon will also give what promises to be a very memorable concert of his greatest hits throughout the years – songs on which so many Israelis were raised, and which are part of their musical and even patriotic DNA.
Among the people who have indicated their attendance at the event is US Ambassador David Friedman.
■ WITH REGARD to American ambassadors, not everyone remembers that the first US ambassador to Israel was James Grover McDonald, who was sent by President Harry S. Truman in March 1949 and served a relatively short time till December 1950. Since then, US ambassadors have served for periods ranging from less than a year, as in the case of Edward Djerejian, who served from January 1994 to August 1994, to the record period of almost 12 years as was the case with Walworth Barbour, who served from June 1961 to January 1973.
What may not be generally known about McDonald is that more than a decade before his appointment as America’s first ambassador to the nascent State of Israel, he had unsuccessfully tried to warn the world of the danger posed by Adolf Hitler. This comes through in the documentary film A Voice Among the Silent: The Legacy of James G. McDonald, which is believed to be the first documentary to pinpoint McDonald’s remarkable efforts to warn the world of Hitler’s plan for the Jews. The incredible story of McDonald’s foresight was almost lost to history until his meticulously kept diaries were discovered in 2003.
He was one of the first Americans to meet face-to-face with Hitler in 1933.
Shocked by Hitler’s attitude toward minorities and people with disabilities, McDonald, as League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, worked tirelessly to find safe havens for refugees seeking ways to flee from Nazi Germany. He repeatedly warned world leaders, including president Franklin D. Roosevelt and future pope Pius XII of the looming disaster, but his words fell on deaf ears, just as did those of Polish resistance fighter Jan Karsky, when he escaped from Poland during the war and told Roosevelt of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis.
The documentary, by Shuli Eshel, was made in 2014 and will be screened for the first time in Jerusalem at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 14, at the American Center, 19 Keren Hayesod Street. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Israeli-born, Chicago- based producer/director/writer Eshel and Shlomo Slonim, professor emeritus of the Hebrew University’s department of American studies.
HOW QUICKLY situations change.
When he called on President Reuven Rivlin in September 2014, in what was then his new role as president of the European Council, Donald Tusk wrote in the guest book: “Again in Jerusalem, not as the Polish prime minister, but in my new role, but as always your best friend.”
Current Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki would dearly like to find a solution to the disintegrating relations between Poland and Israel and, in statements to Israeli media this week, noted that with a little bit of goodwill, there could be mutual understanding. He has an aunt living in Herzliya who understands why Poland wants to enact legislation that would make it illegal to say that it collaborated with the Nazis. He also admitted that he was worried about rising antisemitism in Poland and said that it should be kept in check. He also spoke about Poland’s record of Righteous Among the Nations, which he said is much higher than that of Holland – which, after all, is not surprising, considering the vast demographic differences between the two countries. During the Second World War, one of Morawiecki’s aunts was saved by Polish gentiles who were later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.
■ RIVLIN IS scheduled to join Polish President Andrzej Duda in April at the March of the Living, which this year marks its 30th anniversary. In view of cancellations by both countries of official visits by high-ranking representatives of each other’s countries, a question mark now arises over presidential participation in the March of the Living. Still, there are two months left in which to find solutions to a thorny problem.
■ MEANWHILE, ON a much lighter note, Rivlin, who in general likes to publicly honor his wife, Nechama, has gone to a new, convoluted extreme, stating at the end of his speech “and this has been said to you by the husband of the wife of the president of Israel.”
■ WHILE ON the subject of presidents, Yediot Aharonot on Monday reminded readers that Russian President Vladimir Putin owns an apartment in Tel Aviv. This is not exactly news, though it was news in 2005 when Putin purchased the one-and-a-half room apartment on Pinsker Street as a gift for his high school teacher Mina Yudeskaya Berliner, who taught him German, and whom he held in high regard.
In the 1960s, Berliner was a high school teacher in what was then Leningrad and which has since reverted to its former name of Saint Petersburg.
One of her pupils in 1967-68 was Putin, on whom she obviously made a profound impression.
After migrating to Israel in 1973, Berliner began following the career of her former pupil. After learning in 2005 that Putin was coming to Israel, she went to the Russian Consulate, where she told staff of her past relationship with Putin and said that she would dearly love the opportunity to see him.
When Putin arrived, Berliner was invited to meet him along with veterans of the Red Army. Putin recognized her immediately and invited her to a private conversation, and even introduced her to then-president Moshe Katsav, who asked her what sort of a student Putin had been, to which she replied: “Excellent.”
In the course of their conversation, Putin asked Berliner where she lived, and she told him that she lived in a key money apartment that was on an upper floor of a building in which there was no elevator.
A few weeks later, Berliner was surprised when a Russian diplomat knocked at her door with the information that Putin had been upset that someone of her age should have to climb so many stairs, and decided to buy an apartment for her in a building in which she would not have that problem. He also sent her a handsome watch that he had inscribed, as well as a copy of his biography.
Although she was not in regular contact with Putin, Berliner sent him birthday greetings every year, mainly via the Russian media, which maintained an interest in her.
Berliner died in December last year, and in her will requested that ownership of the apartment be transferred to the Russian Embassy and, through the Embassy, to its rightful owner.
■ PUTIN’S FIRST visit to Israel, at Katsav’s invitation, obviously created a great stir, but not only because he was the first president of the Russian Federation to do so, but also because he came during Passover, and there was concern that he might object to having to eat matzot for the duration.
The bread of affliction does not seem to have done him any harm.
Since then, Putin has met every president and prime minister of Israel.
He came to Israel again in November 2012, during the presidency of Shimon Peres, and although Rivlin has met with him in Moscow, Putin has yet to pay a reciprocal visit to Israel, which he could possibly do in the 70th anniversary year of the state, considering that the Soviet Union was among the very first countries to recognize Israel. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Putin some half-dozen times.
■ MOST OF the meetings between Netanyahu and Putin have also been attended by Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who in Moscow has served as interpreter. The word is out that there may be a game of political musical chairs between Elkin and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. There is speculation that Elkin is sufficiently concerned about the future of Jerusalem as to abandon his seat in the Knesset in order to run in the upcoming mayoral election. And there is no secret about Barkat’s desire to win a Knesset seat in the national election next year – unless the present Knesset disbands this year.
Most of the people who are not just contemplating running for mayor but have already stated their intention have also said that if Barkat runs for a third term, they will not run against him. Barkat has yet to announce his decision, and the longer he dallies, the less time the would-be mayors will have to prepare their campaigns.
■ WHEN SO many people have all but given up on the possibility of peace with the Palestinians, the Tel Aviv International Salon, which caters to young professionals with the aim of enabling them to have informed opinions, has expanded its activities to include a new series on “Peace Talks.”
It is not yet certain whether any Arab MKs or Palestinian politicians will be invited to future events of the kind; but to launch the series, which is being held in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, two MKs with opposing views will meet on Sunday, February 11, at 7 p.m. at ZOA House in Tel Aviv to debate whether there should be two states, one state, or whether peace is at all feasible.
Speaking in English will be Zionist Union MK Hilik Bar of the Labor Party and Likud MK Amir Ohana.
Both are capable of civilized discourse, but the extent of their disagreement on the issue may cause sparks to fly, so organizers are prepared for an interesting evening in more ways than one.
■HUNGARIAN CULTURAL Attaché Janos Lastofka was among the guests who came to the Israel Museum for the launch of the book about the late Hungarian-born artist and Holocaust survivor George Foldes, who in his lifetime never received sufficient recognition for his talent, yet left a great legacy of more than 2,000 works. The book, titled George Foldes: An artist who overcame his destiny, was written by Rachel Sukman, who never actually met Foldes, who died in 1993.
Foldes, who had been sketching and painting ever since he was a child, spent considerable time in Jewish intellectual circles in Paris, and was given to asking a lot of questions. Sukman admitted that she had never actually heard of Foldes, known to the people closest to him as Gyuri, until 2007. Since becoming aware of Foldes and becoming familiar with his art, Sukman, who is the director of the Center for Visual Arts, has lectured about him extensively.
Even though Foldes did not get the acclaim that he deserved, he was nonetheless well known in the art world, and several artists joined members of his family and close friends in honoring his memory on what would have been his 92nd birthday. This made the event in the museum’s Café Mansfeld, named for the museum’s original architect, a very emotional affair.
Sukman said that through Foldes’s wife, Arlette, his son, Yonatan, and his daughter, Sofie, she had discovered Foldes to be a multitalented man of charm, grace and humor who had unfortunately been forgotten by Israel’s artistic establishment. She regards her book as a reminder of Foldes’s contribution to Israel’s artistic heritage.
The book, which covers his life and works from childhood till the end of his days, is important in the context of Israel’s art history, she said.
Lastofka said that it was very moving for him to learn about Foldes, who, despite his difficult past and what he had suffered, managed to overcome through his unique perspective of the world. Lastofka said that he could hardly wait to see the Foldes exhibition elsewhere in the building.
■ PHOTO FARAG has been a photographic trademark in Israel for some six decades. The latest chapter in the Farag saga is being written by Sivan Farag. Sixty years after his late father, Sami Farag, opened his first photo shop in Petah Tikva in 1957, Sivan Farag opened a photographic complex in Hod Hasharon. The 400- sq.m. premises, which previously housed a cosmetics plant, have been transformed into an ultramodern photo studio that has been specially designed for family photos.
In an era of longevity, there are many four- and even five-generation families that are sometimes very large, and it has been difficult in the past to get all of them into the photo so that they would be more than pinpoints.
New techniques in photography obviate this problem. The studio also has numerous background screens that are suitable for photographing children, or more formal backgrounds for official photos. There’s also provision for photographing newborn babies without flash or strong overhead light.
To ensure that people who come to be photographed look their best, the studio also has a bathroom with shower, where people who have come in from a hot summer’s day or who may have traveled a long distance can freshen up.
Running a studio is not a new thing for Farag. He and his wife, Anat, have been managing a studio for 20 years, in addition to which he is a well-known press photographer, whose photographs have appeared in nearly every newspaper and magazine in Israel as well as several publications abroad.
■ ALTHOUGH Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya is first and foremost an educational institution, whose student population comes from many countries around the world, it often steps outside of academia to take on community projects on behalf of the less fortunate in society. In a sense, this, too, is educational, because it constitutes a hands-on lesson in social welfare.
But currently the stepping outside of academia is to root for a lead candidate in the Miss Germany contest.
Finalist Tamar Morali is a communications student at IDC, and both faculty and students are in her corner.
Morali has qualified for the final round of the 2018 German national beauty pageant, and has already won the title of Miss Internet, the section of the competition that is decided by judges and online voters. The final stage of the contest will take place in Germany’s Europa Park on February 24.
■ IN OTHER IDC news, IDC president and founder Prof. Uriel Reichman will be honored by Tufts University in Boston in April, when he will be presented with the Robert and JoAnn Bendetson Public Diplomacy Award at the university’s Institute for Global Leadership. The award recognizes eminent intellectuals and practitioners from around the world.
In bringing people from so many countries together in a spirit of study, friendship and leadership, Reichman has been actively engaged in public diplomacy without actually giving his work in this sphere a title.
■ GETTING IN a few days early, prior to the official opening of the International Mediterranean Tourism Market, Nepal’s Ambassador Niranjan Kumar Thapa and wife, Nirmala, hosted a Nepal evening at the Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel, where there were several speakers and performers from Nepal, but the person who stole the show was an Israeli, Nadav Ben-Yehuda, who would celebrate his 30th birthday at the end of the month if this were a leap year. But it’s not, and Ben-Yehuda was born on February 29.
Among those present with representatives of Israeli tourist agencies were Choli Yong Hwan, the new ambassador of the Republic of Korea, who is due to present his credentials next month; Sri Lankan Ambassador Periyasamy Pillai Selvaraj; Myanmar Ambassador U Maung Maung Lynn; and Philippines Ambassador Neal Imperial, who said that 12 tourist companies from the Philippines were attending the International Mediterranean Tourism Market because Israel is now regarded as one of his country’s most important tourism markets, with significant increases in Israeli tourists to the Philippines for two consecutive years.
Thapa, deputy chief of mission Harihar Kant Poudel and other male members of the embassy wore traditional Nepalese costumes of colorful peaked caps and beige colored tunics over stovepipe trousers with a dark suit jacket to complete the outfit.
The women’s saris were in general brighter than those of India, with large floral patterns.
Although Nepal has an extraordinary number of religious, cultural, culinary, sporting and landscape attractions, which were listed by Sudhan Sabedi, the representative of the Tourism Board of Nepal, who also reminded his audience that Nepal is the birthplace of Buddha, the main focus of the evening was Nepal’s mountain ranges.
This was due to the presence of Ben-Yehuda and Nepal’s most famous woman mountaineer, Maya Sherpa.
Ben-Yehuda, who served in the Golani Brigade, is a frequent visitor to Nepal, which he said he regards as his second home. He specializes in high-altitude climbing and is chairman of the Israel Alpine Committee.
He is also an expert in disaster rescue missions and has participated in rescue expeditions in Nepal and elsewhere.
In May 2016 he became the first Israeli to climb Annapurna 1, which he said is not as high as Everest but far more dangerous. It is the 10th-highest and deadliest mountain in the world, and only 200 people have succeeded in climbing it.
Ben-Yehuda likes to climb mountains that are at least 8,000 meters high. It takes a long time, he said, because of the low oxygen level and the need to acclimatize one’s body to the climatic conditions. Everest, he said, is the most popular mountain, and the safest, with a death rate of only 3%, whereas the death rate from among those who try to climb Annapurna 1 is 40%.
On May 29, 1953, New Zealand mountaineer and explorer Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers confirmed to have reached the summit of Mount Everest, and the world learned a new word, Sherpa, which has a number of definitions but which primarily applies to people of Tibetan background living in the Nepalese Himalayas often serving as guides or porters on mountain- climbing expeditions.
Celebrated Nepalese mountain climber Maya Sherpa said that she does not belong in this category. It just happens that Sherpa is her name.
Maya Sherpa, 38, is the first woman from Nepal to complete climbing numerous peaks, including Mount Himlung, Khan Tengri in Kyrgyzstan, Baruntse, Ama Dablam, Pumori, and Cho Oyu. Sherpa has several firsts to her credit. Other than being the first Nepalese woman to have climbed Everest, and having twice repeated that feat, having done so the first time in 2006, then again in 2007 and 2016, she is also the first woman from Nepal to complete numerous other challenging peaks, though not all were quite as high as 8,000 meters.
When she started, she had no equipment, because mountaineering is not a woman’s job or hobby in most parts of Nepal, and she had to borrow from friends and other climbers. But now she has more than she needs.
When her parents began nagging her to get married, she steadfastly refused, until she could find a man who would understand her passion for mountaineering.
She married him, and they went climbing together. She took time out after her daughter was born, but the little girl is now seven, and Sherpa is itching to climb another mountain.
■ WHAT GOES around comes around. Thirty years back, Arieh O’Sullivan began his radio career in the English-language department of Israel Radio, which in those days had a formidable staff. These days, it has a very sparse number of people bringing the news in English to those who want to hear it. In the interim, O’Sullivan has had a number of jobs, among them military reporter for The Jerusalem Post, and reporter for the now defunct IBA Television News. He has now joined the small team at Kan Israel Public Radio in English as anchor/editor.
There are a lot of people who would like to have that broadcast expand, so who knows? There may be better times ahead for O’Sullivan.