Grapevine: November 27, 2020 - There is nothing like a Dame

The movers and shakers of Israeli society

DAME SHIRLEY PORTER (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
She’s a litter bug – not in the accepted sense of the terminology – in fact, quite the opposite. Dame Shirley Porter, who turns 90 on November 29, cannot bear the sight of litter – especially all the litter that pollutes the Yarkon River, on whose banks she likes to sit or to go out occasionally on a rowboat. She cannot understand why people have to throw litter on the ground when there are public garbage disposal bins only a step or two away. To Dame Shirley, it is intolerable to see the ground or a park littered with soft drink cans, beer bottles, cigarette butts, the remains of take-out meals, plastic or cellophane bags that once held potato crisps, or marshmallows or some other form of junk food and anything else that people tend to throw away.
She is one of the most environmentally conscious people in Israel, so much so that together with her late husband Sir Leslie Porter, she founded the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University. The school is not just another academic facility that bears the name of the donor. Dame Shirley is very much involved in its activities and has a responsive ear to its needs.
Over the years, she has given generously to many causes, not all of which bear the Porter name, but the causes closest to her heart are the School for Environmental Studies and the Council for a Beautiful Israel.
She is a member of the Board Of Governors of Tel Aviv university, as are her daughter, Linda Streit, and her granddaughter, Joanna Landau, each of whom is a social entrepreneur in her own right.
At 6 p.m. on Sunday, (4 p.m. London time), the Board of Governors of Tel Aviv University will pay tribute to Dame Shirley Porter’s environmental legacy in honor of her 90th birthday.
The date, as is known by people who are historically aware, is very propitious because it coincides with the 73rd anniversary of the UN resolution on the partition of Palestine. Shirley Cohen, as she was in November 1947, remembers being so excited to get such news on her 17th birthday that she wanted to immediately board a plane to Tel Aviv. Her parents had other ideas, and instead of giving in to her initial emotions, at the age of 18, she gave her heart to Leslie Porter. It took several decades before the Porters finally made their home in Israel, but today there are four generations of the family living in the Jewish homeland.
Dame Shirley does not allow the passing of time to slow her down, and in addition to her passion for the environment, she is also an avid yoga enthusiast, a factor that contributes to her agility, despite her age.
■ TWO OF Australia’s major Jewish organizations have joined other Jewish organizations from around the world in opposing the appointment of former government minister Effi Eitam to the position of chairman of Yad Vashem. Given the extent of global opposition, Eitam could save himself further humiliation by simply stepping out of the picture, but at this stage of the game, neither he nor Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin – who has nominated him at the bidding of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – appear willing to back down. If there were previous fears for diminishing Diaspora support for Israel, it will be ironic if the Yad Vashem appointment turns out to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Jeremy Leibler, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, voiced deep concern about Eitam’s nomination. “No act that politicizes or compromises the mission of Yad Vashem should be taken,” he insisted. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, headed by Jillian Segal, likewise objects to Eitam, and issued a statement declaring: “Yad Vashem is a shining light of memory, scholarship and commemoration, honoring the victims of the Shoah. Its purpose, through the uniqueness of the Shoah, is to affirm the innate dignity, humanity and equal rights of all people, and to serve as a universal warning of the calamities that may follow when there is any departure from this principle.”
■ THE ZIONIST Federation joined forces with the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce to welcome Australian Ambassador Paul Griffiths on a webinar hosted by Paul Israel, the executive director of the AICC, and Moriah Ben David, the director of the Israel office of the ZFA.
There were some 500 participants watching in Israel, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The event began with a recording of the modern Australian folk song “I Am Australian,” which was written in 1987 by Bruce Woodley of The Seekers, and Dobe Newton of The Bushwackers. They wrote the lyrics together and Woodley composed the music.
A number of Australian expatriates, native Israelis and people whose accents portrayed other origins, but were all players in driving the bilateral relationship, had been asked to send videos of themselves with a few welcoming sentences. These were all fused into a single video, that included the names of all the speakers, and in the final analysis, Griffiths ‘met’ more people than he might have done at a live reception, in addition to which he can receive a copy of the video to help him recognize everyone when he does eventually meet them face to face. Among the many participants were lone soldiers in uniform who had brought with them from Australia a large Australian flag, an Australian rules football and, most important, a huge jar of vegemite.
Another group of young Aussies actually comprised an Australian rules football team. Griffiths said he was overwhelmed by the warmth of the welcome, not just on the Zoom reception, but also ever since his recent arrival in Israel. He has always wanted to come to Israel he said, and noting Australia’s long involvement in the country since way before statehood and its establishment of diplomatic relations in 1949, he was also conscious of the date this coming Sunday, and mentioned that Australia had cast the first ‘yes’ vote to help bring about the 1947 UN resolution on the partition of Palestine.
■ IT’S A pity that Habonim Dror in Melbourne, Australia – which is celebrating its 80th anniversary on Facebook on December 6 – did not give a thought to religiously observant Habo veterans who can’t turn on their computers on Shabbat. Admittedly, Habonim, unlike Bnei Akiva, was never a religious-Zionist organization, but a little more consideration for Jewish values would not go astray. There are a lot of Australian Habonim veterans living in Israel, among them Jack and Selina Beris, Nathan Cherny, Seyma Lederman, Isaac (Pixie) Ernest, Sam Beris, Norman Goldberg, Hymie Marantz, Mark Regev, Frances and Eddie Belfer, Aviva Belfer, Helen Mizrahi, Guy Spigelman, Rodney Sanders, Monique Schwartz, Jeanette Gory, David Mittelberg and several hundred others.
■ COMPOSER, MUSICIAN and singer Shlomo Bar, who formed his own group, “Habrera Hativit” (which brought a new genre to the Israeli music scene), will participate in the grand finale of the annual Oud Festival this coming Saturday night. Bar, like many other Israeli entertainers, has been giving private outdoor concerts in people’s homes and in moshavim, where not more than 20 people are gathered. Bar, like some of his colleagues, finds that such intimate gatherings are more personally rewarding than to look out and down at an audience from a concert hall stage. In the private events, there is a dialogue between him and the audience, through which he feels a real connection. They ask questions or make comments, and he responds accordingly.
■ YOU KNOW that old joke about how many elephants can be fit into a Volkswagen; well the current version is how many participants can you get at a Zoom meeting. This week, Litav Ote had 120 relatives and congregants from Jerusalem’s Hazvi Yisrael congregation at her Bat Mitzvah. Litav is the fourth of the five children of the congregation’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Yosef Ote and his wife, Atira, who is the family’s creative director and PR executive. The Otes are a very musical family who sing together, and Rabbi Ote also composes music and plays on a grand piano. In the pre-coronavirus days, the Otes hosted musical soirées in their home, some of which can be seen and heard on videos on the Internet.
This month Ote also made his debut as an author, writing a children’s book Pashut L’Inyan (Simply to the Point). Most Zoom events tend to start later than the given time because of the frequency of technical hitches. In the case of Litav’s bat mitzvah, the opposite was true, and participants were welcomed well ahead of time. Congratulatory wishes abounded, but the people who voiced them were not visible and Atira Ote had to keep asking “who’s speaking?” She also announced that immediately after her bat mitzvah, Litav would be donating her beautiful long brown hair to be made into a wig for a cancer patient. Speaking in English and Hebrew, Litav gave a dvar Torah that indicated that her father had taught her well. Her delivery was not the least bit stilted, but surprisingly mature for a 12 year-old, and the content was very well presented, earning the approval of the guests who sent text messages and gave vocal expression to their admiration. Zoom is probably the most economic means of having a life-cycle celebration. There’s no need to cut down on the guest list, and there are no catering expenses, except for the immediate family.
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