Grapevine: Right on the Mark

People from across the political spectrum are hailing the decision of Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint Mark Regev as the next ambassador to the Court of St James.

Mark Regev (photo credit: SAMEH SHERIF / AFP)
Mark Regev
(photo credit: SAMEH SHERIF / AFP)
People from across the political spectrum as well as in England and in Mark Regev’s native Australia are hailing the decision of Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint Regev as the next ambassador to the Court of St James. Of the Australian- born diplomats in Israel’s Foreign Service, Regev, who was on longtime loan to the Prime Minister’s Office, can now be counted as the top-ranking diplomat from down under.
Probably in second position is Sydney-born D.J. Schneeweiss, the consul-general in Toronto, who is four years younger than Regev. Whereas Schneeweiss has retained his surname, Regev changed his from Freiberg to something that sounded more Israeli than Diaspora.
Regev is a graduate of Mount Scopus College, Melbourne’s premier Jewish day school, and one of hundreds of its alumni now living in Israel. He was also active in Habonim, and if still in Israel is expected to attend the 70th anniversary reunion of Australian Habonim on October 22. Alumni of Australian Habonim fought in the War of Independence, and they and those who came after them helped to found and/or build up several kibbutzim in Israel, most notably Kfar Hanassi.
Both Regev and Schneeweiss are graduates of the Hebrew University, and both have served in China.
Regev moved to Israel in 1982, and Schneeweiss in 1987. Regev joined the Foreign Ministry in 1990, and Schneeweiss in 1994. Both have been eloquent spokesmen for Israel, with Schneeweiss preceding Regev in London, which was his first overseas posting and where he served as press secretary at the Israeli Embassy, during which time he was recognized by Diplomat magazine as the most effective embassy spokesman in London. In a sense, the two represent the traditional rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney, and both are doing a great job for Israel.
■ OF OTHER interest to Australians is the upcoming book launch on Wednesday, October 7, at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem of Australian author and eminent journalist Sam Lipski’s tribute to Isi Leibler, a former president of the executive council of Australian Jewry and a courageous and relentless campaigner for the freedom of Soviet Jewry. Lipski, together with noted Australian historian Suzanne D. Rutland, wrote the book Let My People Go: The Untold Story of Australia and the Soviet Jews 1959-89. The book, published by Gefen, tells the story of how Jews in the far-flung southern continent – primarily Leibler, who is today a regular Jerusalem Post columnist – with the wholehearted support of a series of Australian governments – became effective movers and shakers in the struggle for Soviet Jewry.
Lipski – who is a distinguished print and television journalist who has been a television commentator and producer, has edited and written for leading Australian publications, and is a former Washington correspondent for the Post – has known Leibler since their youth in Bnei Akiva, the religious-Zionist youth movement which produced a high ratio of great achievers. For the past 17 years, he has been the chief executive of the Pratt Foundation, whose philanthropic endeavors in many fields include numerous projects in Israel.
Leibler also held influential roles in the World Jewish Congress, which, together with the Israel Council on Foreign Relations and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is co-sponsoring the book launch. Rutland, who is a frequent visitor to Israel, will be among the speakers, as will Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma, Judge Elyakim Rubinstein, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who was the most famous of all Prisoners of Zion, and of course Leibler himself.
■ ON HER weekly radio program on Reshet Bet last Friday, Judy Shalom Nir Mozes lamented that the last of her five children is going into the army in November and that, for the first time in many years, she had no one to send to school at the opening of the new school year. But then she brightened and told of how she, along with Miriam Peretz, Claudine Galant, Lihi Lapid and Rona Ramon, had been invited to escort children from the Tikva orphanage in Odessa on their first day of school because they did not have parents to take them. All five women were delighted to become surrogate mothers for a few days and took loads of gifts from Israel to Odessa to distribute to the children, and on the first day of school took first-graders by the hand and led them toward a new chapter in their lives.
Since the fall of Communism in 1991, Jewish life has gradually been revived in Odessa. The Jewish population numbers around 45,000, but most are very poor and many parents are unable to support their families. As a result, many children are abandoned. Before the advent of the Tikva orphanage, such children suffered abuse and neglect, and those that were placed in state orphanages grew up without affection and with little education.
In 1993, Petah Tikva-born Rabbi Shlomo Baksht arrived in Odessa from Jerusalem to help revive Jewish life. He started out by establishing a small school, and when he learned of the fate of so many Jewish children, he rented an apartment, removed six children from state orphanages, and they became the nucleus for what was to eventually become the Tikva orphanage.
Some of the children are taken in almost immediately after birth.
Some children – who have parents but have suffered abuse – run away from home and come to Tikva of their own accord. Others, from poverty stricken families, are brought in by parents who cannot cope, and such children continue to see their parents from time to time.
Tikva maintains close contact with Israel and each year urges wellknown Israeli women to come and take first-graders to school. Ramon was also there last year, along with Israel Prize laureate Adina Bar-Shalom, television personality Miki Haimovich, Hadassah Froman and Israel rally queen Orly Louk.
■ ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION Minister Avi Gabbay seems to be the minister most willing to represent the government at diplomatic events. Aside from anything else, he has a good command of English, an attribute not shared by all of his colleagues.
It was in fact appropriate for him to represent the government at the 70th anniversary celebrations of the National Day of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, because he was not simply paying lip service, but has actually visited Vietnam and came away with a very positive impression.
It’s just a pity that other guests at the reception at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, which appears to be a favorite venue for Asian ambassadors, did not pay him the same courtesy as they had to Vietnamese Ambassador Ta Duy Chinh. Although the ambassador’s address had been somewhat longer and more detailed than Gabbay’s, there was polite silence throughout.
But when Gabbay approached the microphone, there was so much chatter that even people standing close to the stage had difficulty in hearing what he said, despite the fact that he has a strong voice.
Anyone who came early to the hotel would have heard the beautiful singing voice of Sivan Talmor rehearsing the national anthems of Vietnam and Israel. The Vietnamese anthem has a very moving melody, and when Talmor sang it at the reception and members of the Vietnamese Embassy joined in, it was as if angels were singing.
Prior to the official ceremony, guests could see videos based on the philosophy of equality of Ho Chi Minh who in 1945 was the founding president of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In fact, the ambassador credited Minh with ushering in a new era of independence, freedom and happiness to all Vietnamese people, saying that from the beginning he had emphasized that all people on earth are equal from birth and have a right to live and be happy and free.
Reflecting on the difficulties that Vietnam has had to overcome over the past seven decades, Chinh said that Vietnam today is no longer at war but is an attractive destination for trade, investment and tourism, with a potential market of 90 million dynamic and hard-working people.
From a country with a name hardly found on the world map a century ago, Vietnam today enjoys diplomatic relations with 120 countries, including all five permanent members of the UN Security Council and all other major powers, said Chinh.
Although Vietnam and Israel have cooperated on many levels over the years, Chinh underscored that the official visit to Vietnam in 2011 by president Shimon Peres marked a milestone development in relations between the two countries. In fact both Peres and his senior staff returned from Vietnam with glowing reports of the hospitality, culture and beauty of the country.
Gabbay, who noted that 22 years of diplomatic ties between Israel and Vietnam were marked this past July, also referred to the many fields of cooperation, and said that he would like to see expanded cooperation in environmental issues. He mentioned that Mashav had established a model dairy farm in Ho Chi Minh City, which more than 850 Vietnamese students last year attended an 11-month agricultural program in Israel, and that 700 more are expected in the year ahead. He also spoke of the civilian volume of trade, as distinct from defense equipment, and said that it is rising steadily and has reached $1.2 billion.
■ IN FUTURE YEARS, people looking at the wedding photographs of Leora Bedein and Avishai Bastiker are going to wonder what the bride was doing with a newborn baby in her arms – especially as she comes from a religiously observant family. Well, it’s been one celebration after another in the household of investigative journalist David Bedein and his wife, Sara, who welcomed their first granddaughter, Shiri Devorah, after two grandsons, celebrated Leora’s wedding, followed by David’s birthday, plus a week of sheva brachot dinners, one of which was held at the Israel Center in Jerusalem, where David has been a frequent guest speaker. Shiri Devorah, who is the bride’s niece, figured prominently in the bridal photos.
A strongly principled young woman, the bride, according to her father, already displayed this trait as a young girl. He once came home from a press conference and put a handful of tea bags on the table. Ten-year-old Leora wanted to know where they came from, and when told that he’d picked them up at a press conference at the King David hotel, she removed them from the table and took them back to the hotel, telling her father that he shouldn’t take what isn’t his.
■ WHEN KALMAN SAMUELS, the co-founder – with his wife, Malki – of the Shalva Center for children with special needs met up with New York philanthropist Asher David Milstein, he instinctively knew that Milstein had some kind of a family connection with children who were not necessarily born with special needs but who through illness or a faulty vaccine had joined that circle. Milstein was just too knowledgeable about faulty vaccines and their various effects, and in discussing Yossi Samuels, who as an infant had received a faulty DPT vaccination which rendered him blind, deaf and acutely hyperactive, he asked all the right questions.
It transpired that Milstein had a brother, Betzalel Binyamin Milstein, who 26 years ago had received a faulty vaccination and died. Milstein wanted to dedicate a Torah scroll at Shalva in memory of his brother and in honor of Yossi Samuels, who despite the odds has managed to live an interesting, adventurous and quality-filled life. It just so happens that this is also the 25th anniversary year of Shalva.
The dedication ceremony took place at the Mamilla Hotel Jerusalem, where scores of people associated with Shalva and/or the Milstein family came to enjoy the singing and dancing, with men and boys lining up to complete a letter in the Torah. Some were aided by genial Torah scribe Rabbi Efraim Weingot, and others completed the letter independently. A six-member haredi band playing string and wind instruments provided background entertainment, as did the Shalva Band. Among those present were Jeff Seidel, the director of the Asher Milstein Student Center in the Old City, which also provides a home away from home environment for lone soldiers, and Eli Beer, whose United Hatzalah organization of emergency ambucyclists has also benefited from Milstein’s generosity.
This was one of three Torah scrolls that Milstein has donated so far. In April last year, he went to Prague with Seidel to donate a Torah scroll to the new Chabad Maharal Center in memory of his grandfather Rabbi Elazar Kahanow, who was interested in the Maharal and loved to study his writings.
Milstein is not a Chabadnik, but he thinks they do good work. Before that, he completed a Torah scroll at the King David Hotel in memory of his brother, and he did not remove it from the hotel, making it available to any quorum of men who prayed there instead of going to a regular synagogue. He’s now contemplating a fourth Torah scroll, in honor of his living grandfather, Monroe Milstein whose name is well known throughout America as the founder of the Burlington Coat Factory, with branches across the US and Puerto Rico.
The last person to complete the Shalva Torah scroll was Yossi Samuels, after which there was much singing and dancing. Beyond the actual writing of the scroll, there was a certain symbolism in that the ceremony took place in the hotel’s banquet room, which is in the basement of the building, and that afterward everyone went up to the roof for a dinner hosted by Milstein – proof that the Torah can make one rise from the lowest depths to the greatest heights.
■ IN OTHER Shalva news, the British Friends of Shalva are organizing a climb on Mount Kilimanjaro on October 18. Some 30 people from Britain, the US, Canada, Israel and South Africa will undertake the climb and will construct an eruv on the Kilimanjaro campsite so that they can carry things from one area to another on the Sabbath. They also hope to bake hallot on Kilimanjaro.
Among the hikers are British expats John and Tabby Corre, who love adventure. A chartered accountant who spent 48 years of his life in London, Corre is celebrating his 70th birthday on Kilimanjaro. The Corres have three children and nine grandchildren and are involved in educational, cultural and social welfare endeavors. In addition to loving challenges and adventures for their own sake, John also likes to use them as vehicles for fund-raising for worthy causes.
The Kilimanjaro climb is one such effort. For his 60th birthday, he ran a full marathon – the fourth time that he’d done so. Corre is proof that 70 is the new 40.
■ UNFORTUNATELY, SPACE does not permit reports on two meaningful events, one in honor of the 50th anniversary of the aliya of educator Rabbi Chaim Brovender, and the other a tribute dinner by Rabbi Berel Wein of the Destiny Foundation in honor of publisher Matthew Miller and his wife, Renee. These will appear in next Wednesday’s “Grapevine.”