IT WAS somehow appropriate that the 10th anniversary of the Begin Heritage Center should take place during the Christmas period, one of whose focal points is peace. After all, it was Prime Minister Menachem Begin who signed the country's first peace treaty with an Arab state. On hand were Begin stalwarts such as Yehiel Kadishai, Yehuda Avner and Meir Rosenne, but unfortunately there were no members of the Begin family. The late Harry Hurwitz, to whose vision and tenacity the BHC owes its existence, was represented by his wife Freda. Oddly, very little was said about Begin, while Hurwitz, who had been Begin's close friend and ally from 1946 until Begin's death in 1992, and who himself passed away in October 2008, received only a passing mention.
The man of the hour was Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who had come to talk about the way in which the country was overcoming the global economic crisis. He was particularly proud of the fact that in a review of global economies, the investment bank Barclays Capital had pronounced Israel to have the strongest recovery story. Steinitz was also proud of the fact that even though such a measure has been broadly criticized by economists, the Knesset passed a two-year budget.
A punctual man, Steinitz, who was running a fever, had a good excuse for not attending. In fact, he came early and, during the cocktail reception, waited for his turn at the microphone so that he could go home. He spoke without notes, and considering how he felt, he was remarkably good on his feet. Had he not been able to deliver, either Rosenne or Avner could have easily improvised. Both are seasoned public speakers. Smoky Simon, chairman of World Mahal, who had been close to Begin since 1957, said of Avner that Begin had always referred to him as "my Shakespeare."
IN THE same week that the Begin Center held its festivities, there was a wonderful demonstration of coexistence at the Henry Crown Symphony Hall in Jerusalem. The ninth annual Life and Peace concert was actively supported by, and held under the aegis of numerous Italian governmental, parliamentary and municipal bodies, in conjunction with the Jerusalem Municipality and the Tourism Ministry. Black, brown and white cassocked priests sat in the audience alongside Jews with kippot and diplomats representing many countries. But the true coexistence was on stage, where Udi Ben-David, an Israeli cellist, Hanna Khoury, a Palestinian violinist, and Rolando Morales-Matos, a Puerto Rican percussionist, got together to make music. The three had tremendous chemistry which transferred itself to the audience; it was positively electric.
ALSO THIS week, the children from the Voices of Peace, Tel Aviv-Jaffa's inspiring Arab-Jewish choir, endeared themselves to President Shimon Peres, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and heads of Christian denominations at the annual reception hosted by the president for the Christian leadership. Sitting in the front row with Peres and Yishai were Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, Catholic Custos of the Holy Land Pierre Batista, Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, foreign relations director of the Armenian Patriarchate, and Elias Chacour, archbishop of Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.
The young and highly talented singers made such a profound impression on the gathering that after the ceremony was over, many of the clergy lingered to have their photos taken with all or some of the members of the choir. Theophilos III posed with cousins Samira and Lucy Hannani, who have most amazing voices; if they decide to become professional singers, they will undoubtedly go far.
Since its 2002 debut, the choir has delivered a message of peace and tolerance at government-sponsored events and has appeared in front of former US president George Bush, Pope Benedict XVI, Quartet envoy Tony Blair and other international dignitaries. They sing Bob Dylan in English, Ahinoam Nini in Hebrew and Fairouz in Arabic, and have appeared in concert halls from the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Opera House to the Berlaymont of the European Commission in Belgium. A few months back they sang together with Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary) at the residence of US Ambassador James Cunningham. Yarrow plans to be back and to sing with them again some time next year. Led by Idan Toledano, the choir is a living example of coexistence and intercultural dialogue.
POLITICIANS CONTINUE to talk about future Jewish-Arab coexistence, when in many places it has been a fact for quite a long time. It certainly exists in the workplace, though not always on an equal footing. It's an obvious fact among staff and patients in most hospitals and it can be seen in universities and colleges.
At Hamidrash L'Ofna, a Jerusalem-based fashion design school, politics are not permitted to get in the way of creativity, and Arab students work side by side and in cooperation with students from settlements in the West Bank, sometimes designing clothes that have universal appeal and sometimes focusing on the specific needs and traditions of the communities in which they live. Some of their efforts were shows at an end-of-course display, in which all the students helped each other to put on the best possible show. Among the designs that were exhibited were those of Assil Samara, 20, from Kafr Yasif, and Tehilla Gol, 35, from Alfei Menashe in Samaria.
JAPANESE AMBASSADOR Haruhisa Takeuchi hardly lets a week go by without hosting at least one reception of some kind at his residence. Last week it was in honor of Haifa's Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary and which has received the commendation of the Japanese foreign minister. On hand for the awards ceremony were Nissim Tal, director-general of the Haifa Museum, and Dr. Ilana Singer, Tikotin's chief curator.
The Japanese foreign minister's commendations are given to individuals and groups in recognition of outstanding contributions toward the promotion of friendly relations between Japan and other countries. The Tikotin Museum was chosen for its long-standing contribution to the promotion of Japanese arts here. It is the only museum in the country that is exclusively dedicated to exhibiting Japanese art.
Takeuchi noted that no matter how good a collection is, it is worthless unless viewed and appreciated by many people. In that respect, he said, the Tikotin Museum has been doing an outstanding job by exhibiting its collections with quick rotation. Since his arrival toward the end of 2008, he had already attended four openings at the museum, he said. He applauded the museum for not limiting itself to the visual arts alone, but for hosting concerts, lectures Japanese film nights and other events that gave the public a broader appreciation of Japanese creativity. He was pleased that many more events are scheduled throughout 2010 in celebration of the museum's jubilee year. Among the 80 or so guests at the reception were MKs Anastasia Michaeli and Moshe Matalon.
ISRAELIS ARE becoming increasingly aware of the need to do something for children at risk. Not only is the business community supporting the efforts of organizations such as Elem, which literally takes such youngsters off the streets and places them in a warm, caring environment, but the entertainment industry is also getting involved, with members supporting a wide number of child related causes by appearing gratis at their fund-raising events, contributing financially or, as was the case with singer and raconteur Gidi Gov, giving all the proceeds of one night's performance to a particular charity - in this case Elem. Tickets ranged from NIS 100 to NIS 1,000.
Among the business enterprises that are key supporters of Elem is Osem, whose chairman Dan Proper received a special citation. Others present at the event at Tel Aviv University included Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal, Yehudit Recanati, Raya Strauss, Nili and Eli Zohar, Drorit Wertheim, Ori Slonim, Irit and David Federman, Talia and Gad Ze'evi, Yair Hamburger and naturally Elem president Nava Barak, who also happens to be president of the Friends of the Rabin Medical Center and was likewise on hand for the official opening of a new state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization laboratory at Beilinson Hospital, which is part of the RMC.
The initial fund-raiser for the laboratory was a gala affair held two years ago at the Tel Aviv Museum, where Barak was one of the speakers who attempted to impress on the public just how important such a laboratory would be in the interests of life saving research and treatment. She was there for the dream and she was there for the reality, along with Pini Cohen, chairman of the Friends of RMC; Dr. Eyran Halpern, who is the center's CEO; and Prof. Ran Kornowski, director of RMC's cardiac catheterization laboratories and interventional cardiology.
IT'S HARD to believe that birthright-israel has been in business for a decade. It seems like only yesterday that Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman were selling the concept of bringing unaffiliated young Jewish men and women here on subsidized tours to catch the Zionist bug. There were a lot of people who pooh-poohed the idea, but the fact that it's still going strong and getting stronger speaks for itself. Dignitaries from here and abroad were present at Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday to welcome the 10th anniversary plane.
As great an event as this was, it was not quite as big as the mega event planned for Thursday, January 7, when thousands of young adults and dignitaries will crowd into the Jerusalem International Convention Center to celebrate birthright-israel's 10th anniversary in the presence of President Shimon Peres. Sheldon Adelson, one of its major supporters, who has enabled thousands of university students to come here, flew in especially to greet the 10th anniversary group.
IN THEIR long ago youth in Australia, both Isi Leibler and Jonathan Sheink were leaders of Bnei Akiva in Melbourne. Each got married young and, together with their wives Naomi and Chana, formed a lifelong friendship. Each couple came here from Melbourne and each settled in Jerusalem within fairly easy walking distance of the other. The friendship was maintained here, where each of the couples added to their crops of grandchildren and also became great grandparents. Each has two great grandchildren. The Leiblers got theirs in one fell swoop by way of twins. The Sheinks got theirs one at a time, most recently three weeks ago.
The Leibler family and Isi Leibler in particular were in the forefront of the struggle for Soviet Jewry. One of the grandparents of the Sheinks' younger great grandson is Natan Sharansky, the most widely known Prisoner of Zion, who is today chairman of the Jewish Agency. Sharansky's daughter Hannah married the Sheinks' grandson Nahum Waller just over a year ago.
THE DISTINGUISHED Bahat Prize, the country's highest for a reference manuscript, was awarded to Prof. Eli Yassif, Dr. Dana Olmert (both of Tel Aviv University) and Dr. Yehuda Goodman at a ceremony at the University of Haifa. The prize went to Yassif for his manuscript Legends of Safed, to Olmert - the daughter of former prime minister Ehud Olmert - for her First Hebrew Poetesses and to Goodman for his Exile of Broken Vessels. The manuscripts will be copublished by the University of Haifa Press and Yedioth Books following a partnership agreement that was signed earlier this year.
The Bahat Prize, named after the late Prof. Ya'acov Bahat, one of the founding faculty members of the Department of Comparative Hebrew Literature at the University of Haifa, has been awarded annually since 1998 for quality, original, non-fiction manuscripts in Hebrew that have not been published previously and which have a potentially large popular audience. This is the first year in which the prize for a senior academic faculty member was designated at NIS 100,000, with NIS 40,000 for young scholars. The increase in the amounts resulted from a grant from the Bahat and Yuval families and former students of Bahat's who wished to honor his memory.
FIVE PERCENT of babies are conceived via in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer, Prof. Shlomo Mashiach, one of the country's leading fertility pioneers, told Israel Radio this week. When he first introduced this method of conception here nearly 30 years ago, he said, he had also warned that it could have complex ethical consequences. Scientific progress has proved his forecast correct, to the extent that he now believes that scientists should be restricted in how far they're allowed to go. The scientific possibilities are endless, he said, and they're raising too many ethical questions. Nonetheless, there is no greater joy for a physician, he said, than being instrumental in bringing a new life into being.
AS IF Israel does not have sufficient headaches with regard to marginalizing its non-Jewish populations, Hebrew language maven Dr. Avshalom Kor wants to pour oil on already troubled waters. Kor reportedly wants to Hebracize the names of all 19 stations on Jerusalem's upcoming new light rail route. This includes stations in Arab neighborhoods. Kor wants to do away with Arab names, arguing that giving an Arab name to a station would encourage illegal construction by Palestinians.
But it's not just Arab names that Kor wants to erase. He also wants to get rid of historic King George Avenue and call it Bikur Holim, although the Bikur Holim Hospital is in fact in Rehov Strauss, which is an extension of King George. He even wants to change the name of Jaffa Road, and rename it Rehov Davidka in tribute to the name of the mortar that proved so effective during the War of Independence. There is actually a Kikar Davidka on Jaffa Road that is in the final stages of renovation and expansion.
ALTHOUGH HER sexual orientation was not exactly a secret, and her fans and most of the entertainment industry were well aware that her life partner is Naomi Kaniuk, the daughter of writer Yoram Kaniuk, singer Yehudit Ravitz, has decided to come out of the closet. In a cover story in the supplement of Yediot Aharonot, published in advance of a television documentary about Ravitz and Kaniuk, the singer decided to go public.
Generally speaking, Tel Aviv's gay community tends to capitalize on the outings of well known personalities, but this time around, it has remained relatively silent. Part of the reason may be that lesbian and homosexual relationships are no longer shockers.
Ravitz is of course not alone in the local entertainment industry. Among those who are openly gay are Lea Shabat, Yehuda Poliker, Amos Gutman, Dana International, Amir Pei Gutman, Ivri Lider, Gal Ohanskiand Corinne Alal.
WHAT DO former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar, former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval and World Keren Hayesod chairman Avi Pazner have in common? They were all born in Gdansk (Danzig), Poland, and each was still a child when he came here.
IT SEEMS as if he's been around forever, so it should have come as no surprise that Yehoram Gaon celebrated his 70th birthday on Monday. Most radio and television stations honored him by playing several of his popular songs, and some even played bits and pieces of the soundtracks from his movies and television series. The Gaon festival went on for most of the week, and is continuing on Reshet Gimmel.
Gaon has long been considered the national troubadour. Unlike Arik Einstein, who will celebrate his 71st birthday on January 3, Gaon's repertoire is free of cynicism. Most of his songs are related to his love for Israel in one way or another, and even though tastes in music have changed over the years, Gaon is still in demand and has a fairly good lineup for 2010. His radio fans would love him to resume his Friday afternoon current affairs commentary, which Israel Radio reported he was scheduled to do some time in 2009. That didn't happen but, hopefully, he'll be back at the Reshet Bet microphone in 2010.