Grapevine: TA-Miami link is not only El Al

It wasn’t all business and no pleasure for the Miami mayor and the manager of the Tel Aviv port.

Miami (photo credit: INIMAGE)
(photo credit: INIMAGE)
Retired firefighter Carlos Gimenez, who is currently mayor of Miami- Dade County, arrived in Israel last week as the special guest of Atarim CEO Yaron Klein, who manages Tel Aviv Port.
In the course of the visit, the two men signed a cooperation agreement based on the fact that both the Tel Aviv Municipality and the Dade County Municipality see eye to eye on the importance of the seashore and its environs as strategic infrastructural assets for economic development, tourism and community events. Both sides are eager to exchange mutually beneficial know-how and information on beachside management. The agreement calls for the exchange of community delegations in order to strengthen relations between the two cities and professional expertise.
It wasn’t all business and no pleasure. In addition to the signing ceremony, Klein took Gimenez, a Cuban American, on a tour of the port and of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, and of course made sure that he sampled some of the excellent local cuisine.
■ NO JEWISH subject is taboo at Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that an upcoming lecture evening on December 3 is devoted to “Jewish Gangsters.” Of course, there are some well-known characters in this category in Israel, but it is more likely that Prof. Robert Rockaway of Tel Aviv University, who authored But He Was Good to His Mother will talk about the Diaspora variety of Jewish gangsters, whereas renowned defense attorney Zion Amir is more likely to deal with the domestic variety, though unfortunately, due the discretion under which lawyers operate, he will not be able to discuss some of his clients, though he may possibly give them a superficial mention.
■ EVEN BEFORE Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman wrote to President Reuven Rivlin requesting that he commute the sentence of Elor Azaria, the soldier who shot a wounded Palestinian terrorist who had already been neutralized, Rivlin received a letter from Azaria’s mother begging him to restore the light in her home by showing compassion for her son. In her letter she stated that her whole family was suffering depression. She also wrote that since he was a little boy, her son’s greatest wish had been to serve the state.
Rivlin, who returned from Spain on Wednesday evening, did not have much time to deal with the issue last week, as he prepared to fly to California on Saturday night to address the annual meeting this week of the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America.
In Spain, one of the key issues in his meetings was the resurgence of antisemitism in Europe, but in America he will be hard pressed in his bid to mend fences with Diaspora Jewry, whose Conservative and Reform movements are still angry at being religiously disenfranchised in matters pertaining to their services at the Western Wall. Rivlin, who is campaigning for national unity or at least reconciliation on the home front, wants to ensure that Diaspora Jewry will not feel alienated from Israel, but that will be a tough battle. Rivlin has offered words of appeasement to Conservative and Reform leaders, but until they are given a place at the Western Wall, the president’s oft-repeated statement that “we are one family” will hold little water.
■ INTERNATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS tycoon Patrick Drahi last week inaugurated the Drahi Brain Computation & Communication Laboratory at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences.
Drahi was joined at the dedication ceremony by Michael Federmann, chairman of the Hebrew University’s board of governors, and HU president Prof. Asher Cohen.
Drahi is the founder and controlling shareholder of the multinational telecommunications and media group Altice. Lina and Patrick Drahi’s substantial donation to the university will help advance the research of HU’s Prof. Idan Segev, one of the world’s leading researchers of computational neuroscience, information processing and neurobiology.
■ THOUGH REPORTED in August as being under way, the first pre-military coed course for religious men and women was officially inaugurated at the end of last month at Kibbutz Migdal Oz. Participants in the course are high school students from Israel and abroad.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by Education Minister Naftali Bennett; Jewish Agency CEO and director-general Alan Hoffman; Rabbi Yehiel Wasserman, head of the Center for Spiritual Services in the Diaspora in the World Zionist Organization; head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council Shlomo Ne’eman; Sarena Koschitzky, chairwoman of the World Bnei Akiva movement; and Roi Abecassis, the movement’s director.
The initial group of students in the course numbers 50, with 28 coming mainly from Australia and South Africa, plus 22 native Israelis. The official name of the program is the International Mechina, a cooperative venture between the World Bnei Akiva movement and the Kol Ami project run by the Jewish Agency. The director of the program is Rabbi Arik Speaker.
At the conclusion of the course, some of the foreign students intend to make aliya, while others will return to their home countries and join in the activities of the World Bnei Akiva movement in what would be perceived in Israel as civilian national service, with the difference that it is a service to Diaspora Jewish communities.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Bennett stressed the importance of learning from Diaspora Jewry how to strengthen the internal dialogue between different streams of Judaism. Abecassis said the program is a symbol and an example of the ability to bring together in one place the different streams of the nation, including those spread around the world, and yet to nonetheless preserve the uniqueness of each community, thereby “creating a new colorful quilt of people, where the common denominator is the study of Torah, love of the land and a connection to the people and Jewish nation.” He is confident that the course will produce some great men and women.
■ WORLD BNEI Akiva also held a special event in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, to which a total of 100 Bnei Akiva immigrant donors were invited for dinner at the Jerusalem home of Canadian Jewish community leaders and executive members of international Jewish organizations Sarena and David Koschitztky.
Among the guests of honor was former national security adviser and chairman of the National Security Council Brig.- Gen. Yaakov Amidror, who was also one of the speakers.
Like speakers at other events related to the Balfour Declaration and what preceded it, Amidror referred to the important but not widely known role of Aaron Aaronsohn, one of the founders of the Nili intelligence organization, whose operation was critical to the success of British forces that came to do away with Ottoman rule. Due to its activities, it can be said that Nili contributed to the issuing of the Balfour Declaration, said Amidror, who noted the unique connection that existed between his own family and Rivka Aaronsohn, the younger sister, whom he used to visit as a child.
Later, Amidror said that it was always clear that Nili was significant as the first intelligence agency of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. But until this day, he added, it is still not clear as to how the British Empire regarded the organization.
Amidror, relying on research by his colleague former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, said that documents from British espionage agency MI6 explicitly mention Nili as an organization that contributed to the intelligence capabilities of the British Mandate and to Britain’s capability to conquer Palestine from the Ottoman rulers.
The research also indicates that when the Balfour Declaration was worded, a draft of the text was sent to Aaronsohn so that he could say what he thought of it. “Such a gesture surely testifies to good relations and relations of honor between British intelligence and Nili in general, and Aaron Aaronsohn in particular,” said Amidror.
The Nili organization was a highly important source of intelligence for the State of Israel, and later became a significant tool for the establishment of the Jewish state. Amidror continued: “It is important to understand, our military, as strong as it may be, serves a small country with relatively few resources, but the intelligence apparatus this country has is among the best around.
Good intelligence enables us to choose and focus on the most important and significant points for the country’s resilience and thus to utilize the limited resources the military has in the best possible way.”
■ INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED expert on antisemitism Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, who is a child Holocaust survivor and who is in a position to compare the resurgence of antisemitism in Europe with what he experienced in his youth, will on Monday, November 13, at 10 a.m. give a lecture on Israeli-European relations in an increasingly chaotic reality. The essential difference between antisemitism then and now is the existence of the State of Israel and the ability of Jews to defend themselves. But this does not necessarily curb physical and verbal attacks against Jews.
The lecture will take place at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 13 Tel Hai Street. Gerstenfeld founded and directed the center’s post-Holocaust and antisemitism program.
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