Grapevine: Presidential love song

In the close to three-and-a-half years of his presidency so far, Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama have done it all.

Members of a 10-horse cavalry procession take place in the October 23 ceremony commemorating the battle for the Tzemah train station in northern Israel. (photo credit: JNF)
Members of a 10-horse cavalry procession take place in the October 23 ceremony commemorating the battle for the Tzemah train station in northern Israel.
(photo credit: JNF)
In the close to three-and-a-half years of his presidency so far, Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, have hosted or met up with royalty, heads of state, prime ministers, secretaries-general of the United Nations, business tycoons, military heroes, poets pop stars, and even the pope, but they had never been as excited over a visitor as they were last Thursday over French Armenian singer, actor and writer Charles Aznavour. The reason: It was to Aznavour’s songs that they fell in love.
“‘La Boheme’ was our song,” the president told Aznavour. “We were so excited about meeting you. That’s the first thing I told him in the morning when he woke up,” said Nechama.
Aznavour said he would have a surprise for the president when he and his wife attended his performance in Tel Aviv on the following Saturday night.
Abigail Tenembaum, representing the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, presented Aznavour with a special medal at a ceremony at the President’s Residence, saying that his family had saved a number of Jews and Armenians during the Holocaust.
“We are here to celebrate and honor the Aznavour family for their acts of courage during the Holocaust,” she said. “For three years, the Aznavours hid Jews as well Armenians in their small apartment in Paris. At a time of hunger and austerity, the Aznavours always found a way to have food for their guests, and whenever they could, they filled their home with music and songs.
Both Rivlin and Aznavour spoke of the special bonds between Jews and Armenians.
The Aznavour apartment became a place of hope during a time of darkness, a house that offered “a hope for life.”
Three years ago, said Tenembaum, the Wallenberg Foundation decided to honor the many people who had provided shelter in “houses of light to Jews during the Shoah.” Over the past three years, it found and honored more than 400 families across Europe.
“My English is not so good, and I am not used to making speeches. I am better at writing and singing,” Aznavour said, adding in French: “Thank you all so very much for this medal, which is a symbol of goodness.”
He also disclosed that he had played Jewish characters in seven movies.
Aznavour said that today he is more French than Armenian, “but I have never denied my Armenian origins. Jews and Armenians have many things in common, in happiness and in sorrow, in our work and our music. We also know how to become important people in the countries that have welcomed us all over the world.”
Among those in attendance were Baruch Tenembaum, the founder of the foundation, French Ambassador Helene Le Gal ,Swedish Ambassador-designate Magnus Helgren Israel’s ambassador to Armenia Eliyahu Yerushalmi, and the president of the Supreme Court of Argentina, Dr. Ricardo Luis Lorenzetti, and his wife.
■ AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER Malcolm Turnbull visits Israel this week to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, which was a decisive factor in the defeat of the Ottoman forces and led to historic political changes throughout the Middle East. His visit begins today at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
There has been considerable media attention given to Turnbull’s visit and to the Beersheba event. Although he is not the first Australian premier to visit Israel, the trip is historic in that he is bringing with him the largest entourage that has ever accompanied a visiting prime minister to Israel. The overall figures are not in the tens, the twenties or even the hundreds – but in the thousands. Australians, who characteristically are generous of heart, tend to be big spenders, and the positive effect of the visit on Israel’s economy is mind boggling.
■ SLIGHTLY TONGUE-in-cheek, but nonetheless with a serious proposition, Australian expat Rodney Zenter, a Jerusalem- based obstetrician and gynecologist, wrote a letter to Turnbull prior to his arrival.
“I am a proud Australian currently living in Israel. Just as the capture of Beersheba 100 years ago by the Australian Light Horse cavalry permanently etched Australia in the world history books (I hope to see you there on 31st October), I have a serious suggestion that will again place you, as prime minister, and Australia in the history books forever.
“Inevitably America will be transferring its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city, following which many other countries will follow suit. What a wonderful thing it would be if Australia preempted the Americans. Sure there would be some backlash from Arab countries, but that would be short-lived. Australia, being a powerful country, will not suffer any serious or long term consequences.
P.S. Any chance you could bring me some Vegemite? I’m running low. Yours respectfully, Dr. Rodney Zentner” Considering that on November 29, Israel will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the United Nations resolution on the partition of Palestine, in which Australia was not only the first country to vote in favor, but actually lobbied other countries, Zentner’s suggestion is not quite as far-fetched as it seems. It would certainly be the fine closing of a circle in Australia-Israel relations.
■ IT IS not yet certain whether New Zealand Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy will be in Rishon Lezion on Monday, October 30, for the unveiling of the Friendship Plaque by the Village Well to mark the 100th anniversary of the entry into Rishon Lezion of the ANZAC Forces. The event is being co-hosted by the Rishon municipality and the New Zealand Embassy.
The event will include the opening by Mayor Dov Zur of two exhibitions at the Rishon Lezion Museum: “Liberation, Tidings and Hope” and “Sand in the Apricot Jam” by New Zealand artist Rebecca Holden.
The New Zealand Embassy is located in Turkey, and New Zealand’s representative in Israel for more than 20 years has been Honorary Consul Gad Propper, who has been honored by New Zealand for the sterling work that he has done over the years.
■ ALTHOUGH BEERSHEBA is the main focus of the centenary of what was essentially the British victory over the Ottoman and German forces with the help of Australian, New Zealand, Indian and other allied military personnel, the ANZACs were involved in other successful battles in different parts of the country, one being Tzemah in the Galilee. This past Monday members of the Australian Light Horse Association, some of them descendants of the ANZACs who fought against the Germans in the area in what was one of the world’s last cavalry battles, participated in a mounted parade.
Among the ANZACs were aborigines, who were discriminated against at home, but treated as equals in the army. Among the riders who participated in the parade, cheered on by members of an Australian Jewish National Fund delegation, was Queenslander Doris Paton, whose great grandfather, David Mullet, was among the aboriginals in the Australian forces and spent four years in the country. Australian aborigines are now treated with much greater respect than in the 20th century.
■ A HEADLINE in the online Tablet magazine reads “Do you really need a license to put on tefillin?” The item, written by senior writer Liel Leibovitz, seems to be far-fetched, but is reprinted here so that readers can start the week with a chuckle.
“Being a Chabad emissary in Tel Aviv is hardly any easier than it is anywhere else.
Sure, you don’t have to go around asking people if they’re Jewish, but you do have to contend with city hall asking if you’ve got a permit for those phylacteries. This past Friday, a Chabad rabbi doing his work at a booth in the city’s tony Ramat Aviv neighborhood was approached by a municipal inspector and warned that he lacked the proper license necessary to ask passersby if they’d like to put on a pair of tefillin.
“This is the second case in a few weeks involving Chabad being singled out by unfriendly Israeli municipalities. In September, a Chabad rabbi in Herzliya was fined (the equivalent of) $209; the inspector who issued the fine wrote that the rabbi’s offense was “harassing people by asking them to put on tefillin.”
Following a national furor, Herzliya Mayor Moshe Fadlon was forced to apologize for his employee’s judgment. He did so in a personal letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who passed away in 1994.
“I, Moshe the son of Tony Fadlon, mayor of Herzliya,” read the letter, “inform the rabbi, King Messiah, that unfortunately there was a misunderstanding about the tefillin stand. I want to express my sorrow and announce to everyone that I cherish the activities of Chabad. I request from his holiness a blessing for success and for a sweet and sweet year.”
As of now, there’s no similar letter coming from Tel Aviv’s mayor and no apology or comment has been issued.
■ THERE SEEMED to be more people with British accents than American ones at the launch of Jerusalem Post columnist Brian Blum’s first book Totaled, which tells the story of the rise and fall of Better Place, the company started by Shai Agassi, who was previously regarded as a wunderkind in the world of hi-tech. The reason that it seemed strange to hear so many British accents is because the launch took place at AACI, the Jerusalem headquarters of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. On the other hand, the California-born Blum was interviewed by fellow journalist Matthew Kalman, who hails from Britain.
A journalist and hi-tech entrepreneur for more than 20 years, Blum was accustomed to writing 1,000-word articles, but had never actually tackled a book but for the fact that he fell in love. He and his family went to Better Place to look at the electric car that Agassi was promoting on the Israeli market. They hadn’t intended to drive it, but they did, and they instantly fell in love with it and bought it.
Afterward, Blum as a journalist who usually does thorough research of the subjects about which he is writing asked himself how he could possibly have bought the car without doing due diligence. But he and his family continued to love it and had a charger in their home, which meant that they could for the first few months drive endless miles around the country. But when Better Place folded nine months later, and owners of electric cars were unable to get replacement batteries, the original batteries weakened. Blum and a group of other buyers sued the car supplier, Renault, and eventually reached a settlement whereby they sold the cars back for somewhat less they were worth, but at least they got some money.
Blum did a tremendous amount of research for his book and met some very interesting people that he might otherwise not have come across. The book has been well received and now that he’s taken the first step in a long journey, Blum is keen to write another book, but did not reveal what it would be about.