Community activism is genetic in the family of Dame Shirley Porter, who together with her late husband, Sir Leslie Porter, established the School for Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University. Their daughter, Linda Streit, is the founder of the Daniel Rowing Center in Tel Aviv, and co-chair of the Friends of Daniel Rowing Association, which supports its activities. The Center uses the discipline of rowing to enhance and transform the lives of youngsters and adults via community outreach programs, and provides a vibrant facility for the nurturing of high-performance athletes. Linda Streit’s daughter, Joanna Landau, is the founder and director of Vibe, an image-oriented not-for-profit, non-political enterprise that has branded Israel in an effort to change its image around the world. All three generations sit on the board of governors of Tel Aviv University, and all three were present at the President’s Residence this week when Landau presented President Reuven Rivlin with a copy of The Israel Brand Narratives Book.
■ NOW THAT the word is out that the US Consulate in west Jerusalem, which for so long served Palestinian interests, will be merged with the US Embassy, people are playing a guessing game as to what will happen to the building once the move takes effect in the first week of March.
Someone suggested that it’s a good site for a hotel, but long before the announcement of the merger, people close to US Ambassador David Friedman said he had his eye on the property for more than a year and would like to make it the official US residence. Reuters reporter Dan Williams tweeted that it will serve as Friedman’s residence. As yet, there have been no reports as to what will happen to the veteran US residence in Herzliya Pituah overlooking the sea. Of course, Jerusalem doesn’t have a sea, but it has many other features with which Herzliya Pituah cannot compete. At the Waldorf Astoria Hotel a few meters down the road from the US Consulate, which may yet become the US residence, they joke rather unkindly about the sea view, but don’t spell it that way. In their lexicon, it’s the “C-View.” The C represents the Muslim cemetery across the road, from which some graves were transferred to make room for the Museum of Tolerance, which 14 years and several court cases after its dedication, is now more than half-way through construction.
■ FRENCH PHILOSOPHER Alain Finkielkraut had just concluded an interview with Kan 11’s very busy peripatetic representative in Europe Antonia Yamin when the phone rang. On the other end of the line was President Rivlin, who wanted to express his solidarity with Finkelkraut following the latter’s frightening experience as the target of a vicious antisemitic attack. In the very brief exchange, Finkelkraut tried to explain what had happened to him, but Rivlin overrode him in his remarks. After replacing the receiver on his phone, Finkelkraut said to Yamin, who had been privy to the conversation and had recorded it: “He speaks more than he listens.” Finkelkraut noted that former French president Nicolas Sarkozy had the same trait. It’s another example of “Do as I say not do as I do.” Rivlin frequently advocates that problems would come closer to resolution if people would only listen to each other.
■ CZECH PRIME Minister Andrej Babiš, reputed to be the second wealthiest man in the Czech Republic, with an estimated fortune of $4 billion, has something in common with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Both are under police investigation. In fact, Babiš had already been charged with tax evasion and other forms of corruption when his parliamentary immunity was restored after his election to his current position. Babiš visited the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, and said he was greatly impressed with Israeli innovation. He declared that he was excited to be there because he likes to dream big. Shimon Peres often said, “We didn’t dream big enough.” The Czech premier said he would be happy to host an innovation conference in Prague in cooperation with Israel, adding that he sees Israel as a strategic partner in medical innovation. Babiš received a copy of Peres’s autobiography from Peres Center CEO Efrat Duvdevani, and in return, presented her with a copy of his book, What I Dream When I Happen to Sleep.
■ ACTOR, AUTHOR and host of the annual Storyteller’s Festival Yossi Alfi is a storyteller himself, and appears as such in the new Kan 11 television series about transit camps (Hama’abarot), which presents one of the more shameful and insensitive periods in Israel’s history. The majority of interviewees started life in Israel by first being sprayed with DDT, then having their hair shorn, then being confined to tent city transit camps surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by Jewish police accompanied by dogs. It was a traumatic experience that well over half a century later still disturbs their emotional equilibrium.
Alfi was only a child when he came to Israel from Iraq with his grandmother. Yet telling the story of their initial encounter with the transit camp was obviously painful to him. For Holocaust survivors of concentration camps, the transit camps, where again they were placed behind barbed wire – with Jewish policemen yet – preventing their escape, was a psychological nightmare. For parents whose healthy infants disappeared, there was even greater suffering. The parents were told that the children had died, but were never shown a death certificate or a grave. In addition, North Africans had to endure the scorn and discrimination of the Ashkenazi elite who regarded them as primitives.
It was not the legendary melting pot of early Israeli propaganda. Moreover, the immigrants were not informed in advance of what awaited them, and when they arrived at the transit camps, they were told that it was temporary. For some, temporary was as long as 12 years. Also interviewed was well-known Iraqi-born author Eli Amir, who in several print media and radio promos prior to the series, took a philosophical approach, saying as bad as things were under the Ashkenazi Mapai regime, the alternative was worse.
■ WHEN YOUR residence is in Los Angeles and your heart is in Israel, you choose Israel to celebrate a milestone birthday. That was the case this week with Hannah Rubinstein, honorary president and former chairperson of WIZO Los Angeles. A native Israeli who left her heart at home when she moved to the US, Rubinstein is a serial philanthropist who has made major contributions to Yad Vashem and various Holocaust survivor organizations, as well as to disadvantaged populations. She also supports organizations that promote sports activities for girls. Her family contributes to the Maccabiah Games and to tennis centers in Israel. Hundreds of guests filled the elegant Amado banquet hall in Herzliya this week. In lieu of gifts, Rubinstein requested that donations be made to WIZO, earmarked for women and children who live in the organization’s shelters for battered women.
Entertainment was provided by popular singers Tilda Rejwan, Shimi Tavori and Eitan Masuri. Seen among the guests were well-known artist Rachel Weizman, diamantaires Dalia and Haim Chizik, and internet entrepreneur Or Katznelson.
■ HOT ON the heels of the visit to Israel this week by Hungarian Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Péter Szijjárto, will be his return visit next month, when he is scheduled to come to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Hungarian-Israeli diplomatic relations and to attend a March 19 concert by renowned Hungarian pianist Ádám György. According to Hungarian Ambassador Levente Benkő, the event will kick off Hungarian Cultural Year in Israel. Also appearing in March will be the Budapest Operetta Theater, which is familiar to Israeli aficionados of opera and operettas.
There’s more to Hungarian cuisine than goulash – especially for people with a sweet tooth. Nothing beats Hungarian cakes. But there will be a variety of other Hungarian culinary masterpieces during Hungarian Food Week that runs from April 7-12. From May 12-19 there will be a series of Hungarian movies at cinematheques in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, with several Hungarian filmmakers in attendance. Ballet and other cultural events will follow throughout the year.
■ EVEN THOUGH Prime Minister Netanyahu postponed his trip to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, thereby denying the public an update on Israel-Russia relations, people sufficiently fortunate to be on the regular guest list of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations will next month have the opportunity to listen to Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov, who will present new insights on Russia’s role in the region in a lecture titled “Russia and the Middle East– Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.”
Unlike some of his predecessors, Viktorov speaks English fluently and is a convincing orator, and is much in demand as a public speaker.