Grapevine: Presidential presence

Grapevine Presidential

  • MOST FOREIGN heads of state and government visit Yad Vashem when they come here. It's not unusual for heads of state to visit on consecutive days. Two on the same day is highly unusual. Two at the same time is even more so, but that's what happened on Tuesday. Croatian President Stjepan Mesic arrived at around 10 a.m. and was followed by Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov who arrived at 11 a.m., while Mesic was still in the complex. Their respective visits overlapped by half an hour. Ivanov is the first Macedonian president to visit Israel. At the end of last week he was in Turkey. Both Mesic and Ivanov are here to participate in the Presidential Conference "Facing Tomorrow." The two met separately with President Shimon Peres on Monday, but at the end of the day returned to the same Jerusalem hotel - the King David. Ivanov told Peres that it had long been his dream to come here. His visit is particularly exciting for Hebrew speaking Macedonian Ambassador Pajo Avirovik, who presented his credentials to Peres less than a month ago and who accompanied his president to Beit Hanassi. Avirovik is Macedonia's first resident ambassador to Israel.
  • AS EXCITING as a profession in the fourth estate might be, it's not a pretty business. It's cutthroat competition in which ethics are sometimes swept aside in the interests of immediacy - more so since the advent of the Internet. Yet in times of trouble, media people can be relied on to give moral and other boosts to colleagues and even rivals. Thus it was hardly surprising to see the huge turnout of photographers and print journalists, most of them from The Jerusalem Report and The Jerusalem Post, including people who've had a relationship with both, at the photo exhibition "Life in a Frame," featuring portraits by Argentina-born photographer Esteban Alterman, who for 18 years has been the staff photographer at The Jerusalem Report. A very positive person, who according to Hanan Sher, a former longtime editor with the Report, was always involved with the subject matter, because he was more than a photographer - he was a photojournalist. However it would seem that Alterman's days as a photographer may be restricted to what is left in his files. He has been stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive degenerative disease which will rob him of the use of his limbs. Spurred by restaurant co-owner Lara Mor, founding editor of the Report Hirsh Goodman and others who appreciate Alterman as a human being, a friend and a top-ranking photographer, an exhibition of his works was mounted at the Jerusalem Theater, and will remain there till November 12. Israel Prize laureate and the country's best known photographer David Rubinger was recruited as editor of the exhibition and gladly took on the role, although he later made light of his contribution. Declaring himself to be "very impressed" by Alterman's work and his ability to show more in a portrait than just a face, Rubinger noted that in the Internet era there are no longer outlets for good photographers, which is why exhibitions documenting reality were desperately needed. "Without them our profession is doomed," he said. Among the other photographers who came to give Alterman moral support were Ariel Jerozolimski, whom Alterman described as not only a good friend, but "my driver and my hands"; Sasson Tiram who is holding his own exhibition at the Hebrew University on October 30; Isaac Harari and Sarah Levin, as well as people behind the bylines such as David Horovitz, Sharon Ashley, Leslie Susser, Isabel Kershner, Netty Gross, Alvin and Gilah Hoffmann, Ralph Amelan, Calev Ben-David, Eeta Prince Gibson, Ina Friedman, Judy Siegel, Liat Collins, Ruthie Blum, Susan Lerner, Elliot Jager, Jean-Michel Rykner and many others. Also present was Bridget Silver, the wife of the late Eric Silver, whose writings appeared in publications in different parts of the world, and whose byline was frequently seen in The Jerusalem Report. Alterman's parents, whose emotions were vividly reflected on their faces, were likewise in attendance, as were his wife Alejandra and his children Tamar and Yonatan, who handed out roses to people who had been most involved in putting the exhibition together - among them curator Noga-Arad Ayalon. A grant from The Jerusalem Post Group made the exhibition possible. Cheerful, though confined to a wheelchair, Alterman went through a list of thank yous, and said that on the night before the opening of the exhibition, he had realized that it meant more than portraits. It was an expression of friendship and solidarity, for which at the end of the day he had one word - "gracias!"
  • IN ANOTHER part of the same building complex Canadian Ambassador Jon Allen, temporarily shed his diplomatic role and became the photographer at the opening of an exhibition of acrylic paintings and photographs by his wife Polish-born wife Clara Hirsch. Called "Marking Time" the exhibition is the history of a migrant family in which the parents, both Holocaust survivors, who lost their first families, start life anew after the war. Many of the visitors were eager to hear from Hirsch what it was like for her and her brother to leave Poland, to go to Austria and from there to Canada, where her father ran a grocery store, and where the language at home was Yiddish. The exhibition will remain on view till November 15.
  • SOME OF the guests who joined Indian Ambassador Navtej Singh Sarna and his wife Avina in celebrating Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, were already exhausted before they arrived, having danced the previous night away till 3 a.m. at a Diwali party at the Port of Tel Aviv hosted by the Indian diamond merchants residing here. Others had attended a spectacular Chinese variety show at the Israel Opera House in Tel Aviv, but everyone was willing to party yet again. Following a reception in the back garden which looked like fairyland, with candles in glasses surrounding the pool and hundreds of tiny colored lights festooning the trees and shrubs, everyone moved to the front garden to watch traditional Indian dance recitals by Yuval Cohen and Miho Kataoka Erlich. At the conclusion of their remarkable performances, Sarna commented to one of the guests: "This really shows that we're outsourcing our culture to Israel and Japan." Among those gathered at the residence were celebrated restaurateurs Reena and Vinod Pushkarna; Yitzhak Eldan, chief of the Foreign Ministry's Protocol Department; Bahai representatives in Jerusalem Barbara and Kern Wisman; V. Sasikala, CEO of the Tel Aviv branch of the State Bank of India; Indian-born Linda Rifkind, who for 25 years was the foreign press liaison at the Government Press Office and now works in a similar capacity on a freelance basis for the GPO and other organizations; Cameroon Ambassador Henri Etoundi Essomba, the dean of the diplomatic corps, and the and his wife Esther; Japanese Ambassador Yoshinori Katori; Nigerian Ambassador Dada Olisa and his wife Janet; Egyptian deputy head of mission Sameh el-Souefi; and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer and his wife Rhoda. Apropos Fischer, he has been named as one of the world's top seven bankers by Global Finance Magazine. Nearly all the Indian women present, including the ambassador's wife, were clad in exquisite, eye-catching saris.
  • RELATIONS BETWEEN Israel and Poland are becoming ever closer. Hard on the heels of the official visit to Poland last week by Defense Minister Ehud Barak is the visit to Israel this week by Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski who met with Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Sikorski met with Barak when he was in Poland.
  • IT'S AN organization with a constantly changing membership. Some of its presidents leave before the completion of their one-year term - and yet the International Women's Club currently headed by Margarita Stegny, the wife of the Russian ambassador, last week celebrated its 40th anniversary at the Sheraton Hotel in Tel Aviv. Among those present was Aviva Zak who four decades ago was among the founding members of the IWC which came into being over a game of bridge hosted by the wife of the then deputy head of mission of the US embassy. The women agreed that they needed some sort of a club to foster mutual understanding and friendship. The club now has more than 400 members, half of whom are Israeli and the other half female diplomats, spouses of diplomats and wives of foreign academics, business people and others currently stationed here. Zak said that she never imagined that 40 years after the club was started, that there would still be a need for it. A nostalgic slide presentation of the history of the IWC was prepared and narrated by multitalented Ann Kleinberg, who wove her tale against the backdrop of world events and the history of modern Israel. The presentation included photographs of members who have left the country as well as deceased members, thereby paying tribute to some women who helped to make a difference. Stegny organized first class entertainment by the Katyusha group of Russian singers, dancers and musicians, who absolutely delighted the audience with their individual and collective talents. Luncheon was served buffet style in another hall, and executive chef Charlie Fadida came in for many compliments for the quality and variety of the dairy meal. Fadida made a point of personally waiting on Stegny and vice president Yaffa Weinberg. On the following day, Stegny, who has been doing a lot of commuting between Tel Aviv and Moscow, was again off to Moscow, this time to shepherd her infant twin grandchildren home after their stay with her and the ambassador at their residence in Herzliya Pituah.
  • EVEN THOUGH his country was one of the 25 member states of the UN Human Rights Council that voted to adopt the Goldstone report that so strongly castigates Israel's conduct in Operation Cast Lead, there is no doubt about the warmth that outgoing Nigerian Ambassador Dada Olisa feels toward Israel. Olisa, who has reached retirement age and is winding up his diplomatic career was emotionally positive in his address at the reception that he and his wife Janet hosted at their residence in Kfar Shmaryahu to mark the 49th anniversary of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. More than that, when it came to the playing of the national anthems, Janet Olisa, a diplomat in her own right, sang "Hatikva." Another interesting aspect of the occasion was that in contrast to previous years, the catering was kosher and sufficiently varied to enable all guests, including vegans and vegetarians, to find something to their liking and in keeping with their beliefs. As they have done in the past, the Olisas and members of the embassy chose to wear the national dress of their country, with the women crowning their costumes with magnificent head-dresses. Janet Olisa looked particularly striking in her full-blown, tangerine-hued headdress. Regardless of the Goldstone report, there has been remarkable progress in relations between Nigeria and Israel since Olisa's arrival in 2007, with Nigeria's Vice President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as well as its foreign minister paying visits. Olisa also mentioned the success of Lieberman's recent visit to Nigeria, during which there were two business forums with Nigerian and Israeli participants and the signing of a bilateral trade agreement. The number of Nigerian pilgrims to Israel has increased from 11,000 to 20,000. Olisa also noted that at least 100 Israelis per month are making first visits to Nigeria. Making no effort to hide his personal attitude, Olisa said: "I have been to every nook and cranny in Israel, and in each place I am reminded that God has a special plan for this land." Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Begin also commented on the enhanced diplomatic, economic and cultural relations with Nigeria and praised it for promoting stability and democracy in West Africa. He made a last ditch appeal for Nigeria to vote against the adoption of the Goldstone report, but to no avail.
  • THE MULTIMEDIA presentation "The World that Was," endowed by the British Friends of Yad Vashem, was unveiled last week in Yad Vashem's Valley of the Communities. The short film, available in Hebrew and English, depicts the richness and vitality of 2,000 years of Jewish life and culture before the Holocaust. Fittingly it is screened in the valley, a 2.5 acre memorial to the more than 5,000 Jewish communities decimated in the Holocaust. More than 100 stone walls tower above the ground, and are engraved with the names of each of those communities, a testament to what was and no longer exists. Speaking in barely controlled tones, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, who was a child in the Holocaust and whose book on those experiences is now being translated into Chinese, underscored the importance of not just talking about how people perished and the horrific ways in which their lives ended, but remembering who those 6 million Jews were and the communities which nurtured them. "If someone doesn't appreciate a phenomenon, he will not feel any pain if that phenomenon ceases to exits," he said BFYV chairman Brian Markeson emphasized that "it is essential to learn what was lost in the Shoah in order to understand its implications." He reiterated the dedication of the trustees to "raising the profile of Yad Vashem in the UK in order to support and enable its initiatives and educational efforts."
  • SIGNIFICANT ANNIVERSARIES bring major players in events being celebrated out of the mothballs of history. Some of these people are retirees, and some have gone on to confront new career challenges. There will be a little of both on Monday, when past and present Jordanian, Israeli and American diplomats get together at the Hebrew University's Abba Eban conference hall in the Truman Institute to mark the 15th anniversary of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. Among the speakers will be Prof. Ruth Lapidot, a former legal counsel to the Foreign Ministry, who will discuss the points of similarity and divergence between Israel's peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt; Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon; US Ambassador James Cunningham; Jordanian Ambassador Ali al-Ayed; Ambassador to Jordan Ya'acov Rosen; former US ambassador to Israel William Brown; Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who chaired the Israel delegation in the peace negotiations; General (res.) Mansour Abu Rashid, Jordan's former chief of intelligence who chairs the Amman Center for Peace and Development; Ambassador Munther Haddadin, former minister of water and irrigation and a member of the Jordanian delegation to the peace negotiations; as well as several academics, interfaith and coexistence activists. AGE IS no deterrent to Raya Jaglom, the feisty veteran Zionist activist whose primary concerns were women, children and education. After spending the summer in Switzerland and France, the 90-year-old Jaglom returned to become enraged by the news surrounding the plan to deport 1,200 children of foreign workers. She immediately got to work to mount a protest. Initially she wanted to bring busloads of women who had participated in the building of the nation to Jerusalem, and there were indeed several women in their 70s and 80s who were willing to stand outside the Prime Minister's Office in the grueling heat. But there were others who were afraid that it would be detrimental to the health of the protesters, so the compromise was a plan to place protest advertisements in two major newspapers. Within less than a week, Jaglom had rounded up more than 60 people who supported her initiative. She finds it repugnant that the government of a nation whose people were so frequently persecuted throughout the ages, should be so heartless in relation to children, who though not citizens were born and raised here. A somewhat younger activist on behalf of these youngsters is Noa Maiman, the daughter of business tycoon Yossi Maiman. The granddaughter of a nonagenarian Holocaust survivor, who has a Peruvian caregiver whose child is in danger of deportation, Noa Maiman is committed to repaying in kind the humane attitude of a Polish gentile woman who hid her grandmother from the Nazis for two and a half years. While she does not make any kind of comparison between the situation that confronted her grandmother and that of the children whom she is trying to save, she has arranged for many hiding places for those children who do not receive a reprieve. Maiman and her father were among leading personalities who this week attended the opening at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Tel Aviv owned by businessman Ronald Fuhrer, of a photographic exhibition "Children Living under the Shadow of Deportation." She initiated the exhibition which was attended by Ministers Gideon Sa'ar, Avishay Braverman, Limor Livnat and Yossi Peled who was a child Holocaust survivor. Former ministers MK Yuli Tamir and Yossi Sarid also came to demonstrate their support, as did present and former MKs Nitzan Horowitz and Yael Dayan.
  • SEVERAL YEARS ago when Haim Yavin was CEO at Israel Television, he was invited to speak at the Jerusalem Bar Association at a award ceremony at which the honoree was fellow veteran broadcaster Ya'acov Ahimeir. Yavin referred to the topsy-turvy media world in which there is so much role changing in that someone who is subservient to a boss on one day becomes the boss's boss the next. It could easily happen, he surmised at the time, that Ahimeir could take over from him and that he in turn, would do Ahimeir's job. That didn't happen, although Yavin was replaced as CEO by another colleague. Now, he's changing roles again. Last year, Yavin was given a life achievement award by the Association of Israel Journalists. This year, on November 29, he will be the emcee at the presentation of life achievement awards at the annual Eilat Journalists Conference organized by the Association of Israel Journalists. Recipients will be Yaron London and Moti Kirschenbaum - both former colleagues of Yavin's - in recognition of their contributions to the electronic media; and Sever Plocker, the economics editor of Yediot Aharonot. The awards ceremony will be preceded by an address by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who celebrates his 60th birthday today. Traditionally, the prime minister used to address the editors of Israeli newspapers, magazines and electronic media at a November 29 luncheon at Beit Sokolov, which is the headquarters of the AJI. Since the advent of the Eilat Journalists Conference, the Prime Minister now addresses a much wider media audience. November 29 is the date on which the United Nations in 1947 adopted a resolution on the partition of Palestine, paving the way for the establishment of the State of Israel.
  • NOTHING IS forever, even a long-lasting tradition. Guests who have attended the annual Day of German Unity hosted by a series of German ambassadors, have become accustomed to participating in a raffle in which the prizes were expensive household electric products provided by German sponsors. Many guests cheated by taking several of the free tickets from the baskets held by staff members of the German Embassy, who moved among the crowd gathered on the ambassador's back lawn. This year, on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of reunification between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany, some guests expected even better prizes than in previous years. But no. At the reception hosted by Ambassador Harald Kindermann and his wife Ingrid, there was more room than usual in which to move around because there were no German luxury cars parked in the garden and there was no raffle. However, there was a representative of the government in the person of Minister without Portfolio Yossi Peled.
  • AS IT does each year, the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association is hosting a Balfour Dinner to commemorate the November 1917 Balfour declaration. The usual practice at such dinners is to have two speakers, one from the United Kingdom and the other from Israel. Speakers at this year's dinner at the Tel Aviv Hilton on November 2 will be MP John Mann, who chairs the parliamentary committee against anti-Semitism, and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. IBCA rarely has a function Jerusalem, primarily because the bulk of its membership lives on the Coastal Plain. Jerusalemites who usually travel to Tel Aviv, Herzliya Pituah and Ramat Gan for IBCA functions will be spared the trouble on Monday, November 23, when IBCA in conjunction with the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland will host a panel discussion in the Weizmann Hall of the Jewish Agency. The event to be chaired by Andrew Balcombe, chairman of the ZF UK, will feature British Ambassador Tom Phillips, executive director of NGO Monitor Gerald Steinberg, former for the Prime Minister's Office spokesperson Miri Eisin and Daniel Taub, the principal deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry. Advertised as "Any Questions?" the event will be a no holds barred affair, but one that the organizers stipulate will be conducted in a thoroughly civilized manner. Tickets are NIS 75 if paid for on the night and NIS 50 if paid in advance. For details, contact IBCA chairman Austen Science at (054) 761-2306
  • HIS AMERICAN-born friends, especially those from the Yeshiva of Flatbush and from Yeshiva University, were thrilled by the appointment to the Supreme Court of New York-born Neal Hendel. Hendel is not the first American-born judge here, nor the first to serve on the Supreme Court. That honor belonged to Kentucky-born Shimon Agranat, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1949 and served as its president from 1965 to 1976. Agranat's name is enshrined in history as having headed the commission that investigated the circumstances under which Israel entered the Yom Kippur War. Current Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch is not only the first woman president but the first sabra president. All her predecessors, with the exception of Agranat, were born in Europe. Beinisch still has a few years to go before reaching mandatory retirement age of 70.