Grapevine, September 16, 2020: Focus on Jerusalem

The movers and shakers of Israeli society.

BANK HAPOALIM’S (from left) Roni Garfunkel, Naama Halevi-Peer, Ronit Meiri and Ofer Semo deliver food packages for Rosh Hashanah, September 2020  (photo credit: AVIV GOTTLIEB)
BANK HAPOALIM’S (from left) Roni Garfunkel, Naama Halevi-Peer, Ronit Meiri and Ofer Semo deliver food packages for Rosh Hashanah, September 2020
(photo credit: AVIV GOTTLIEB)
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion has been steadfastly opposed to closure, saying that it would be far more effective to take people who have tested positive for coronavirus out of their environment and, depending on how sick they are, to either hospitalize them or place them in a rehabilitation center. Many people who have tested positive bear no symptoms and feel perfectly healthy. However, since they could infect others, they should be removed from their homes and the community for the duration of the rehabilitation or isolation period. Lion’s reasoning is that the healthy people should not be penalized because of the sick.
But logic seemed to have deserted him last Thursday when he, chief rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau, Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Rafi Peretz and several other well-known personalities gathered in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Malha, where they attended the consecration of the Sha’ar Rahamim Synagogue and the dedication of a Torah scroll donated by nationally known businessman and former member of the Jerusalem City Council Rami Levy. The dignitaries had been assured that Health Ministry guidelines would be observed, but though the intention may have been there, the reality was different, with many more than the recommended number of people dancing and totally ignoring the strictures of social distancing. Many of the merrymakers were without masks.
When media people later sought an explanation, they were told by representatives for all the dignitaries that their respective visits had been brief. Maybe so, but that’s more or less like seeing a person with a kippah sitting in a nonkosher restaurant. At most, he may have had a glass of water, but his presence in a place where he should not have been seen leads to a lot of negative speculation.
■ EARLIER IN the week, Lion had affixed the mezuzah at the entrance to the newest branch of the Bank of Jerusalem, which offers private banking services to local and overseas clients in real estate, capital markets, savings and international banking. The bank, with main branches in Jerusalem and Airport City, is owned by Export Investment Corporation Ltd., a public company owned by the Shoval family, whose shares are traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
Although he’s been in banking for more than half a century, Zalman Shoval is a man with a multilayered career. He’s been a diplomat, serving twice as Israel’s ambassador to the United States. He’s been a member of Knesset and a member of the Israeli teams negotiating with Jordan and the Palestinians. He has written numerous articles for the Hebrew- and English-language media, has authored books and has served as president of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. He has also served on all the central bodies of the Likud.
The new branch of the bank is located in the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria hotel. Although tourism is at a low ebb at the moment, Shoval and others associated with the management of the bank believe that in time it will pick up again, and foreign investors staying at the Waldorf or at nearby luxury hotels will use the services of the bank.
In line with economic reality as well as the refrain of a popular song, during an economic crisis the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Wealthy overseas investors, some of whom are clients of the bank, continue to invest in Israel. Within recent weeks, South American billionaire Zev Diego Marynberg purchased the last 10 remaining apartments in the Elrov Mamilla project owned by Alfred Akirov for NIS 85 million. Marynberg’s was not an exceptional case. The sale of a group of 22 properties in Jerusalem was transacted through the Bank of Jerusalem, with $28m. changing hands.
The Shovals know how to entertain in style, and in fact Zalman Shoval used to host an annual Sukkot breakfast at the Inbal Hotel for overseas investors vacationing in Jerusalem. Presumably, if he gets to host one this year (which is unlikely), it will be at the Waldorf Astoria. Among those attending the inauguration of the branch was its general manager, Gil Topaz, senior managers of the bank and members of the Shoval family.
■ BOTH THE spirit and the flesh are important to Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, the director of Chabad of Rehavia, who on Tuesday of this week gave an online tutorial on how to blow shofar, and on Wednesday and Thursday will distribute 250 holiday meals to needy families and individuals.
■ JERUSALEM OLD CITY resident Jeff Seidel, who provides Sabbath and holiday meals for mostly foreign students, so far has orders for more than 200 meals, but numbers could increase considerably over the next few days due to the Rosh Hashanah lockdown, during which students will not be able to accept invitations to people’s homes – or, more accurately, fewer people will be inviting.
■ NOTWITHSTANDING HIS ordeal at the hands of the police the previous Saturday night, Ze’ev Engelmayer, in his theatrical persona of Shoshke, was back with the demonstrators in Jerusalem this past Saturday night, and to make sure that the police who arrested him a week earlier would be hard pressed to do so again, he chained himself to a pole. The police were initially unaware of his Shoshke image, and thought he was insulting Sara Netanyahu. His act, in which he portrays a naked blond-haired woman, is supposed to be a parody but is actually the height of vulgarity and insulting to women in general. He’s just a painful example of freedom of expression.
■ SEVERAL OF the organizations whose members have been demonstrating regularly near the Prime Minister’s Residence in recent weeks have announced that as responsible citizens they will honor the lockdown and desist from demonstrating while the lockdown remains in force. But the decision is not unanimous, and there are other regular demonstrators who are convinced that the lockdown has been introduced in order to curb demonstrations. In other words, there will be no relief for the residents of Rehavia.
The question is whether two of the people who should be the capital’s most responsible citizens will observe the lockdown and remain at home. Both President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu violated the Passover lockdown and set a bad example for the nation. We’ll have to wait and see if they set a better example this time.
■ MULTIFACETED BUSINESSMAN David Zwebner, who is an eighth-generation Jerusalemite, does not believe in putting all his eggs in one basket, and has a number of professions at his fingertips, one of which is real estate. Zwebner is the founder and general manager of Ashkelon Properties and director of A.D. Galilean Estates. He is also CEO of Commstock, a wealth management company, and is also the founder and manager of a precious metal recycling company. Among other things, he’s also a tour guide, and sits on the boards of numerous and diverse organizations.
Early last year, he was on a group tour that included the United Arab Emirates, and made a few contacts along the way. Last week he received a letter from UAE property consultant Ahmad Ghatti, who works in Dubai for real estate developer Heart of Europe. Ghatti was interested in offering a partnership or brokerage to Ashkelon Properties, and started his letter with the word “Shalom.”
■ KAN 11 REPORTED on Saturday night that a private UAE businessman is interested in investing in the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team owned by Moshe Hogeg. The businessman, who is not related to the royal family, has had several Zoom conversations with Hogeg, and is not remotely deterred by the unbridled racism of La Familia, a growing circle of Beitar supporters notorious for chants that insult Arabs. The businessman likes the strong sense of loyalty that Beitar fans have for the team, but suggested that it should include respect for every person regardless of race or religion. “If there is a spirit of tolerance,” he said, “we can create an atmosphere of pure friendship. “ He attributed racism to people’s fear of what they don’t know about the other, and the suspicion that derives from that ignorance.
■ SOME MEDIA people who sought to create a greater rift in the coalition government than that which already exists waxed long and loud over the fact that neither Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz nor Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi were part of the prime minister’s delegation to Washington.
But the truth is that Gantz was left minding the store in Bibi’s absence, in addition to which he had a better-late-than-never obligation to the 120 outstanding soldiers who missed out on the gala ceremony that takes place at the President’s Residence on Independence Day, and who were finally being recognized just before the end of the Jewish calendar year. As defense minister and former chief of staff, Gantz could not let the soldiers down. He attended the modest ceremony on Monday night at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv together with Rivlin and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi.
Among the 120 outstanding soldiers was Shira Begin Ben-Ari, the granddaughter of former cabinet minister and MK Bennie Begin and the great-granddaughter of prime minister Menachem Begin. Shira’s father, Yonatan, was a fighter pilot who was killed 20 years ago when his F-16 fighter jet crashed.
■ MOUTH PAINTER Yochai Levy, who was paralyzed following an accident during his army service, learned to paint by mouth as part of his therapy. He became so adept that art became his profession.
Levy, who lives in Moshav Peduyim in the Negev, had a dream which for many years he had been unable to realize. Nothing would give him greater pleasure than to be able to go to the seaside, to the very edge of the water. Until recently, he could not do that. But when Natal, the Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center, and Dreamers, the not-for-profit organization that works to make dreams come true, got together with real estate developer and philanthropist Yaki Briga, the dream became a reality. Briga Real Estate contributed NIS 100,000 to purchase a sophisticated wheelchair that can move over almost any surface, including sand, thus enabling Levy to get to the sea. That was not the only surprise that Briga had for Levy. He also opened an exhibition of some of Levy’s art at Briga Towers in Netanya.
■ BANK HAPOALIM contributes to and organizes numerous philanthropic projects, by way of giving back to the community. Some are aided directly by the bank’s board of management, and others involve volunteer activities on the part of Bank Hapoalim staff, both as a group activity and also as members of various volunteer organizations.
This month, at the joint initiative of Ronit Meiri, director of strategy, enterprise and human resources, Roni Garfunkel, chairman of the bank’s employees committee, Naama Halevi-Peer, head of the Social Banking Center, and members of the bank’s management, 300 food packages were delivered to Holocaust survivors, senior citizens, needy families and individuals, and to homeless people. In addition, volunteer staff members who are associated with charitable organizations delivered 450 more food packages for the holiday period to various organizations for further distribution. An in-house fundraising campaign by the bank, as a sign of solidarity with coronavirus patients, brought in NIS 120,000. Bank employees also collected food items which were passed on to 80 charitable organizations that provide food for the poor.
■ FRIENDS OF the Israel Defense Forces, which over the years has provided tens of millions of dollars for the benefit of soldiers in the IDF, particularly lone soldiers, has this year provided holiday gift cards to some 12,700 needy soldiers as well as to lone soldiers, so they can celebrate the holiday without having to worry about their finances. Gift cards worth around NIS 600 each have been distributed to some nine thousand soldiers, and gift cards worth NIS 300 have been distributed to soldiers from low-income families. The gift cards can be used at some 90 retail chain stores throughout Israel and will enable soldiers to purchase food, clothing, sports gear, electrical devices and leisure items.
■ LEKET ISRAEL, the National Food Bank, has wide outreach not only in providing food for the needy but in appealing for donations with which to buy food, especially during the pandemic, when its traditional resources from which it collects food are drying up. Among overseas communities that have responded is the Jewish community of Oporto in Portugal, which donated €15,000, brought to Israel by Dias Ben Zion, the president of the Oporto Jewish community, so that he could personally present the check to Leket Israel CEO Gidi Kroch.
The donation is a result of ongoing collaboration between the Catholic and Jewish communities in Oporto, which inter alia has resulted in the production of a movie, The Light of Judah, which three months ago was released on various streaming platforms. The movie deals with the historical relationship between Catholics and Jews in the Middle Ages. The two communities decided that all Israeli streaming proceeds would be granted to Leket Israel, and that proceeds from streaming in Portugal, which also totaled at €15,000, would be granted to the food bank in Oporto and three local Catholic charity organizations.
Production of the movie was made possible by ongoing religious, cultural and social collaboration between the Catholic and Jewish communities, which began in December 2019 with the goal of fighting antisemitism. The initiative has received financial backing from philanthropic Jewish families as well as B’nai B’rith International.
“Our community is committed to the State of Israel, and we are excited that we have been able to fulfill our promise and donate the proceedings from the movie, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in the demand for meals,” said Ben Zion. “Leket Israel is leading an important mission, and we are proud to be able to help.”
Kroch responded that “it is heartwarming to see Oporto’s Jewish and Catholic communities working together to feed Israel’s poor at this troubled time for us all.”
■ CONSIDERING THAT there are so many police officers of North African background, it seems rather illogical to yet again drag the ethnic genie out of the bottle with regard to the arrest and handcuffing of star soccer player Eran Zahavi, following several complaints by neighbors about the noise emanating from his spacious villa in Savyon. When police arrived and knocked on the door, Zahavi, after opening it, refused to identify himself, allegedly cursed them and slammed the door in their faces. Zahavi’s wife, Shai, later said that there are apparently some among her neighbors who don’t like Mizrahi music (favored by people of North African background), which is why they complained.
One of her neighbors, Ran Rahav, who owns one of Israel’s leading public relations firms, is a television personality and also the honorary consul of the Marshall Islands, said in response that it’s high time that ethnic differences were forgotten. Everyone in Savyon is accepting of everyone else, he said, but everyone also knows that the law is the law, and it should be respected along with law enforcement officers. He emphasized that athletes to whom people look up should set an example of good behavior. Rahav suggested to Zahavi’s wife that, by way of making amends, she should bake some cakes and take them to the police. She took the suggestion in good spirit, saying on Facebook that she happens to be a good baker, and invited Rahav to come and sample her cakes.
■ IT’S NOT just because Australia is seven hours ahead of Israel that the Down Under Jewish community is commemorating Shimon Peres on the fourth anniversary of his death, ahead of next week’s official commemoration in Israel. Events sometimes take place on particular dates because organizers have to fit in with other people’s schedules, even in a Zoom era, or particularly in a Zoom era, given that participants often live in different time zones. The Australian commemoration on Thursday, September 17, is to include the participation of two former prime ministers – Malcolm Turnbull and Julia Gillard, who together represent Australia’s bipartisan support for Israel, as well as Chemi Peres, who will share some of his father’s vision.
The event is being jointly organized by the Zionist Federation of Australia, the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Jewish National Fund of Australia, United Israel Appeal and the Israel Embassy in Canberra.
As a bonus, and in line with innovation, which was a hallmark of Shimon Peres’s career and his ambitions for Israel, there will be a second part to the program, in which there will be a panel discussion with leading innovators from New Zealand, Australia and Singapore, which will be moderated by former foreign minister Julie Bishop. Registration for one or both discussions is at www.zfa.com.au/peres.
■ MEMBERS OF the Peres family, the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, including world chairman Danny Atar, this week gathered at Ben-Shemen Forest for the laying of the cornerstone for the $4.5m. Peres Park.
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