Grapevine, March 19, 2021: Diplomats in hard hats

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

FORMER GOLANI Brigade officer and celebrity poker player Eli Elezra.  (photo credit: FIDF)
FORMER GOLANI Brigade officer and celebrity poker player Eli Elezra.
(photo credit: FIDF)
The common misconception about ambassadors and diplomats in is that they spend most of their time at cocktail parties or other high-society gatherings. It’s true that they do spend some time at such events, but they also go to nitty-gritty places where instead of formal attire, they are distinguished by their hard hats. 
A case in point this week was when more than a dozen ambassadors and high-level diplomats representing European countries participated in a day-long program along Israel’s border with Lebanon, hosted by ELNET Europe-Israel, a not-for-profit organization that works to strengthen Israel’s ties with Europe. The ambassadors included: Neil Wigan, UK; Manuel Gómez-Acebo, Spain; Jean-Luc Bodson, Belgium; Panayotis Sarris, Greece; Rumiana Bachvarova, Bulgaria; Vesela Mrden Korac, Croatia: Jorge Cabral, Portugal; Igor Maukš, Slovakia; and Andreja Purkart Martinez, Slovenia. Also represented were the EU, France, Romania and Poland. The purpose of the visit just ahead of President Reuven Rivlin’s trip to Europe was to give the diplomats an in-depth understanding of the threats and challenges confronting Israel from the close proximity of Hezbollah-ruled Lebanon.
The day’s program was held in conjunction with the Israel Defense Forces. The diplomats were briefed at the Biranit military camp by Brig.-Gen. Oren Setter, head of the IDF Strategic Division, who told them, “One of the significant challenges of the State of Israel today is the need to block and weaken Hezbollah, and at the same time strive for a sovereign, stable and thriving Lebanon within its borders.”
At Zar’it, the diplomats inspected a cross-border tunnel constructed by Hezbollah with the aim of attacking Israeli border communities. Brig.-Gen. Shlomi Binder, the commander of the 91st Division, discussed strategy vis-à-vis Hezbollah, and how the IDF uncovered the tunnels. He stressed the tight and dangerous connection between the terrorist Hezbollah militia and Iran, and how Hezbollah combatants and senior officials are being trained by Iran in order to harm Israeli citizens and undermine the stability in the region. 
“Hezbollah endangers not only the State of Israel, but first and foremost impacts Lebanon,” he said. “Its mission is to undermine the regional stability; our mission is to protect the citizens of the North. We must act in self-defense, preempt the enemy’s actions, and be alert and act at all times and means in order to be able to retaliate when needed.”
For nearly all the diplomats, this was a first-hand experience of the complex realities in the region. It is one thing to read about what is happening or to watch a televised report, but nothing compares to actually being in the tunnels built by Hezbollah. There were several expressions of surprise and astonishment. There was also a consensus that “you have to see it to believe it.”
■ ELNET CEO Shai Bazak said the tour reflected the growing partnership between Europe and Israel. While foreign delegations from Europe were precluded from visiting Israel due to COVID-19, ELNET designed a program to offer European diplomats an in-depth strategic overview of the situation on the northern border. In its engagement with key European countries, said Bazak, “We continuously stress that Hezbollah is a terror organization that needs to be banned across the continent and that Europe should take firm diplomatic action to address the Iranian threat.” He was greatly encouraged by the response of the diplomats, who will report back on what they saw.
■ ANYONE WHO follows the histories of diplomats who were among the Righteous of the Nations during the Second World War will have heard of Chiune Sugihara, who was then the Japanese deputy consul in Lithuania and who saved the lives of more than 6,000 Jewish refugees.
Although his story is familiar to some readers, there is now a unique opportunity to listen and see it through the eyes of prize-winning, internationally renowned cellist Kristina Reiko Cooper, a Japanese American who converted to Judaism and currently lives in Israel. She initiated and conceived of creating a grand musical and documentation project to commemorate Sugihara, which was commissioned and approved by Yad Vashem. She was inspired to do this after learning that her husband’s father was one of Sugihara’s survivors
Profoundly touched by Sugihara’s act of courage and unparalleled example of compassion at a time of great darkness and evil, Cooper embarked on a journey of discovery.
She continues to explore, knowing that without Sugihara, she would not be blessed with her husband and three beautiful children.
Cooper received her BM, MM and DMA degrees from the Juilliard School in New York and is currently a visiting professor at Tel Aviv University. She will be giving a lecture in English today, Friday, March 19, at 11 a.m.
Register online at forms.gle/kzdc5Bfcteho1XMq6. A Zoom link will be sent upon registration.
■ IN THE pre-coronavirus era, charitable organizations would utilize radio and social media to appeal to people who were willing to host strangers at their Seder tables so that arrangements could be made on behalf of Holocaust survivors, senior citizens and others who would otherwise be alone on the first night of Passover. In addition to this, synagogue groups, Chabad centers, and social welfare groups hosted community Seders, charging symbolic fees to those who could afford to pay, and providing free space and meals for the needy. Last year, such gatherings were sacrificed on the altar of the pandemic, with only nuclear families gathered around Seder tables. Most single people sat alone at home or in their assisted living retirement center apartments. 
This year, however, there is a slight improvement in that families and friends can come together, albeit in considerably reduced numbers compared to those of seasons past. Nonetheless, there are still people who cannot afford to pay for a traditional Seder meal. For them and their families, organizations such as Leket and religious movements such as Chabad are distributing Passover meals. In Jerusalem, Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, the director of Chabad of Rehavia and Nahlaot, will supply Seder meals to those who need them. 
In an email notice Goldberg wrote, “If you, or someone that you know are lonely or quarantined and cannot attend a Seder, please let us know as soon as possible.” Actually, this means that he has to know by this coming Sunday, March 21, in order to calculate how much food he has to order and distribute. The email address is [email protected] Many other Chabad centers are also providing Seder meals, so if people elsewhere are in need of a meal, they should contact their local Chabad Center.
■ YOU KNOW the old jokes about the Jewish mother who wants her son or son-in-law to be either a doctor or lawyer. Well, it may not be so much the status as the salary that matters. Good lawyers certainly earn more than judges, taking into account the number of clients they represent. But judges are certainly doing well for themselves, according to a report on Reshet Bet this week, where it was revealed that the monthly salary of Supreme Court President Esther Hayut is NIS 104,256. 
This is the highest salary in the legal system. National Labor Court President Varda Wirth Livne earns slightly less. Her salary is NIS 6,000 short of that of Hayut’s. Deputy Supreme Court President Hanan Melcer earns just a shekel less than NIS 90,000 per month, and other Supreme Court judges earn around NIS 85,334. Considerably lower salaries are earned by district court, magistrates court and labor court and traffic court judges, but their salaries are nonetheless far in excess of the basic wage, which is approximately NIS 5,300. President Rivlin’s gross monthly salary is NIS 64,616, and that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu NIS 56,295.
■ BUT THE really big money belongs to former Jerusalem mayor and current Likud MK Nir Barkat, who was already very wealthy at the beginning of the year, but is now not just a millionaire but a billionaire, presumably the first person of such affluence to sit in the Knesset.
As mayor, Barkat was a shekel-a-year man, and on becoming a legislator, was equally willing to forfeit his salary, but the people responsible for salaries in the Knesset said it couldn’t be done, and that if Barkat wanted to give away his salary, he would have to do so after it was deposited in his bank account. More recently, Barkat, who is a major shareholder in eToro, the fintech company that made an outstanding successful $10 billion IPO on NASDAQ, rose to a slightly higher position on the list of the wealthiest Israelis than he is on the Likud list.
■ FORMER GOLANI Brigade officer and celebrity poker player Eli Elezra will join Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ (FIDF) first-ever National Poker Tournament, taking place across America from April 18-May 2.
The final event will be livestreamed on May 2 via the premier poker site FadedSpade.com. All proceeds will support FIDF’s well-being and educational programs for IDF soldiers.
Elezra has earned almost $4 million in tournament winnings, as well as untold millions in cash games.
[email protected]