He's an Israel Prize laureate; he has been the recipient of numerous other awards; he has twice rejected offers to be nominated for the prestigious position of chief rabbi of Israel; and now he's about to be inducted into the Caring Institute Hall of Fame. He is Rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman, founder of Migdal Ohr, the network of institutions in Migdal Ha'emek that takes wayward and potentially wayward youth off the streets and provides them with a caring educational environment that is a springboard to a better quality of life. A sixth generation Jerusalemite, Grossman, 63, has spent more than half his lifetime looking for and looking after boys from broken homes and dysfunctional families. Grossman thinks nothing of going into discos, bars or other places which are not usually frequented by people like him, to look for boys who are in trouble. In 1967, when he was only 21, Grossman decided to move to Migdal Ha'emek, which was one of the most impoverished towns in the country, with a heavy immigrant population that was riddled with socioeconomic problems. He set to work tackling social and educational challenges, often rescuing youth who had already taken their first steps into the world of crime. His commitment was so intense that he gained instant respect, and within a year of his arrival was named the town's chief rabbi. In 1972, he established Migdal Ohr, which initially cared for 18 youngsters who were either orphaned or came from broken homes. He provided them with schooling, a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. From this nucleus there developed an educational network which currently incorporates 18 schools and seven day care centers which on a daily basis cater to some 7,000 youth. Over the years, thousands of young people have benefitted from Migdal Ohr programs and many former delinquents who came into Grossman's care are today fine, upstanding citizens. Grossman will be inducted into the Caring Institute Hall of Fame at a gala awards ceremony at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles on October 13. The Caring Institute, a nonprofit charitable organization, was founded in 1985 by Val J. Halamandaris following his meeting with Mother Teresa who inspired him to promote the values of caring, integrity and public service. Its board of trustees is chaired by former senator Robert J. Dole, who recently announced the winners of the 2009 caring awards. In addition to five American adults and five American youths, Grossman will be recognized as an international winner. A lifetime achievement award will also be given to the Dalai Lama.
CONGREGANTS AT the Hazvi Yisrael Congregation in Jerusalem's Talbiyeh neighborhood were asked at last Shabbat's service to come early to Kol Nidre because a special dignitary would be in attendance. It wasn't hard to guess that the dignitary was President Shimon Peres who has taken a liking to the congregation, which is within easy walking distance of Beit Hanassi. He has attended services there before and had intended to be present for Rosh Hashana but was told by his doctor that he had to rest. So he decided to come for Kol Nidre instead.
Meanwhile, having invited Peres for Rosh Hashana, the synagogue executive invited Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for Kol Nidre - and he accepted. Although Netanyahu has also visited the congregation before, it was the first time that both the president and the prime minister were there at the same time. In previous years, Netanyahu attended the Great Synagogue. The distance from his official residence to either synagogue is approximately the same.
Some of the Hazvi Yisrael congregants were irked by the heavy security which slowed down access to the synagogue, but once everyone was inside the annoyance dissipated. The Great Synagogue, meanwhile, had to content itself with Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who frequently graced the pulpit when he was chief rabbi of Israel. Netanyahu showed up at the Great Synagogue the following day for the Ne'ila service.
SOME SIXTY members of Nativ, a youth affiliate of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in the United States, who are here on a nine-month study and leadership program, organized a Kol Nidre night happening in Jerusalem, by way of a kosher Woodstock at the conclusion of Kol Nidre services. Taking advantage of the absence of traffic, the youngsters sat in an enormous circle in the Agron-Keren Hayesod intersection and lustily sang Hebrew songs. People heading home from nearby Orthodox, Conservative and Reform congregations were attracted by the sound, and enthusiastically surrounded the singers who occasionally got up to dance in voluntarily gender-segregated circles. Smiles registered on the faces of the spontaneous audience, many of the people who stood around tapped their feet and clapped in time to the melodies, and some even joined in.
Especially delighted were Holocaust survivors Michael and Lea Klein for whom any sign of Jewish continuity both in the ideological and the physical sense is a cause for joy. Michael Klein, who became a highly respected physicist in America before moving here, owes his survival to Oscar Schindler. The Kleins were still enthusing about the contagious spirit of the Nativ youth the following day.
STRICTLY SPEAKING, the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China will be celebrated on October 1, but Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jun decided to bring the celebrations forward by a week and held a huge celebration, replete with fireworks, at his residence in Kfar Shmaryahu. The PRC was proclaimed on October 1, 1949 by Mao Zedong. Since then, China has changed and in recent years has undergone vast reforms and, noted Zhao, has become a "vibrant and vigorous" market economy with an annual GNP growth of 8.1 percent, making it the third largest economy in the world.
Although there were government ministers present - among them Yuval Steinitz, Uzi Landau and Michael Eitan - it was President Peres who brought the nation's greetings to China on this landmark anniversary. Peres has long been an admirer of Chinese culture and was a staunch advocate for enhanced ties even before diplomatic relations were established in January 1992. Peres served for many years as honorary president of the Israel China Friendship Society. He has been to China several times and the Chinese hold him in high regard.
Speaking with undisguised pride about the significant steps taken by his country, Zhao declared that China had remarkable achievements to its credit and has improved its status by opening up to the world. It is still in the process of development and at a crucial stage of reform is pursing a foreign policy of peace and is playing an important and constructive role in solving global issues including the global economic crisis, he said.
As far as Israel is concerned, China is its largest trading partner in Asia and enjoys excellent relations with it on many other levels. China is highly supportive of the renewal of the Middle East peace process, said Zhao, and looks forward to an early resumption of negotiations.
Peres lauded China's contribution to peace efforts and suggested that more attention be paid to the East than to the West, because today the West represents only 12% of the world's population. In terms of population he said, China is larger than Europe and the US: "Every fifth person in the world is Chinese." As for peace, Peres proclaimed that "China was never an aggressor" and "never attacked other countries." China's strength, he said, was in its tolerance, in its patience and in its desire for peace.
When Zhao and Peres moved to the other side of the pool to watch the fireworks, Maya Yang Tze, a petite young Chinese tour guide who is married to an Israeli, and whose grandmother knew Peres in his youth, asked to be photographed with them, and shyly but eagerly stood behind the ambassador's chair. Josef Avi-Yair Engel, the president's personal photographer, motioned her to move to the other side behind Peres. The president who is used to people posing with him, immediately stood up and put his arm around the young woman who almost swooned in delight. "Grandmother told me he was handsome," she gushed, "but he's beautiful!"
Israelis will get a greater sense of China throughout October via a conference on Israel-China relations, hosted by Tel Aviv University, with the date yet to be announced; a Photo Exhibition on China-Israel Relations, at the Tel Aviv Opera House on October 12-25; Chinese Film Weeks at the Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa Cinematheques during October 12-30; My Dream variety show, including dance, instrumental music, singing and Chinese Opera performed by the Chinese Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe at the Tel Aviv Opera House on October 17 and 18; and a performance of Chinese modern dance at Tel Aviv's Suzanne Dellal Center, October 22-23.
SPOUSES OF foreign ministers are rarely seen at diplomatic events other than the annual Israel Independence Day reception for the diplomatic corps hosted by the president, and American Independence Day. For that matter, the foreign minister does not attend most of the national day events hosted by heads of diplomatic missions stationed here. It is not known whether Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would have attended the Independence Day event hosted last Wednesday at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv by Uzbekistan Ambassador Oybek Ishanov, had he not been in New York attending the UN General Assembly, but Lieberman's wife Ela had a personal interest in attending the event in that she was born in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The Dan Panorama makes a point of including a table of traditional foods at such functions, and Ela Lieberman happily indulged in a little nostalgia of the palate.
WHILE HE tends to shun events in which awards are being handed out, Assi Dayan, accompanied by his 92-year-old mother Ruth, whom he publicly thanked for her support, did show up in Haifa for last week's Ophir awards ceremony where he was given a Life Achievement Award. Dayan has already received well over a handful of Ophir prizes. The complex Dayan, who has been in trouble with the police for possession of drugs and for beating up his girlfriend, needed something positive in his life and had two good things happen to him almost simultaneously. One was the Life Achievement Award, and the other was the birth of a granddaughter, Noa, presented to him by his New York-based daughter Amalia, a well known figure in the art world, and her husband art collector, financier and author Adam Lindemann.
CELEBRATED WRITER Amos Oz is reluctant to appear at events in which his works are being discussed, but when he was invited by Peres to join a panel discussing writings and memory in the presence of the President's Literary Circle, he could hardly refuse. Oz and Peres have been friends for more than three decades. "Reading Oz, you get the feeling that the writer is wiser than you are," said Peres. "It doesn't happen too often."
"If Peres wrote to the extent that he reads, where would we writers be?" responded Oz.
There were several references by speakers to the president's excellent memory which is unusual in people of an advanced age. Peres attributed his memory to the fact that he reads a lot. "For me, reading is like entering an intellectual fitness room," he said. But the real test of memory came when actress Yevgenya Dodina recited a lengthy monologue from Oz's best selling A Tale of Love and Darkness in which she did such a marvelous take on his microbe-obsessed grandmother that Oz almost fell off the chair laughing. The crowd that filled the Beit Hanassi reception hall to capacity roared its approval.
EVERY NEW ambassador makes it his or her business to pay a visit to Yad Vashem, knowing that it is almost always on the schedules of heads of state and high-ranking government ministers who come to the country. Not as many diplomats get to visit Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot. Founded in 1949 by former partisans, ghetto fighters and Holocaust survivors, the kibbutz houses a museum that highlights Jewish heroism during World War II. Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol Yitzhak Eldan accompanied 35 diplomats, including ambassadors, consuls-general and consuls from 19 countries, on a recent visit to Lohamei Hagetaot, where they met with some of the residents and heard the story of Holocaust survivor Havka Fulman-Raban, who was one of the founders of the museum and explained its emphasis on Jewish resistance to the Nazi regime, heroism during the Holocaust, the ability to rise from the ashes and start new lives here and most of all, the humanistic lessons learned from the Holocaust.
The diplomats also met with Jewish and Arab students from the Galilee who participate in Holocaust studies programs. Reactions to what they saw and heard were a mix of tears and awe.
"We were amazed and happy to discover the advanced technology used at the museum that approaches the Holocaust from a perspective different from the one to which we are used to, dealing with survival, revival and hope, as well the humanistic lessons that can be derived from the Holocaust," Slovenian Ambassador Boris Sovik told his hosts.
ALTHOUGH IT was mentioned only by the rabbi who recited the memorial prayers at the ceremony marking the 66th anniversary of the near-annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry, the occasion also marked the anniversary of the massacre of the Jews of Eishyshok, the town immortalized by one of its few survivors, Yaffa Eliach, in her There Once Was a World: A 900-year Chronicle of the Shtetl of Eishyshok. The focus at the Yad Vashem ceremony attended by Lithuanian Ambassador Darius Degutis and his wife and Minister for Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein was more on Vilna, once known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania, because of the richness of its Jewish life.
The Vilna choir, composed largely of senior citizens, most of whom are Holocaust survivors, sang a series of Jewish songs that are usually associated with World War II. Those who complain that "The Partisans' Song," originally written and sung in Yiddish but sung in Hebrew at commemoration ceremonies at Yad Vashem, would have been happy to hear it in the original. The problem was that not everyone remembered the words. During the opening stanza, Michael Shemiavitz, chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews, motioned for everyone to stand up for this hymn to Jewish resistance. After completing the Yiddish version, the choir sang the song again in Hebrew - and this time everyone knew the words.
THE NORM is to give people celebrating their birthdays a gift. In the case of philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin, it was he who was doing the bulk of the gift giving. Nevzlin announced to some 350 guests attending his 50th birthday party at Beth Hatefutsoth that he was donating $6 million toward the establishment of the Museum of the Jewish People, which will chronicle the story of the Jewish people in a museum within a museum, in that it will be located at Beth Hatefutsoth on the Tel Aviv University campus.
Nevzlin is one of those philanthropists who believe in setting an example. He is chairman of Beth Hatefutsoth's international board of governors. Before he asks others to donate, he is putting up a hefty sum himself via the Nadav Fund which he founded with two partners. He is hoping that other philanthropists will come up with the balance that amounts to $18 million.
The $6 million gift which spearheaded a fund-raising drive follows previous generous donations which Nevzlin has made to Beth Hatefutsoth. Among the guests was Natan Sharansky who was there in a dual capacity - firstly as chairman of the Beth Hatefutsoth board of directors and secondly as chairman of the Jewish Agency. Unofficially he was there as a personal friend of the guest of honor.
ISRAEL RADIO'S Mickey Gurdus, who is the nation's eyes and ears, monitoring electronic media around the globe, was interviewed by Reshet Bet's Yitzhak Noy in a special program on the Yom Kippur War. Gurdus recalled that at that time he was one of the few people in the country who owned a television set and in the early days of the war, while watching Egyptian television, he was surprised to see a group of Israeli pilots who had been taken captive. He immediately contacted the powers-that-be in the IDF. Meanwhile the footage featuring the pilots was shown again and again. The IDF sent a team of still photographers to photograph the faces on the screen, and there was subsequent great delight when they were recognized. Some of them had been thought to have fallen in battle. The film footage confirmed that they were alive.
REGULAR GRAPEVINE reader Sarah Roth, who came from her native New York to Jerusalem 60 years ago and worked for several years as a public stenographer, was taken down memory lane when she read in last week's column about the 40th anniversary of the Jerusalem College of Technology, known as Machon Lev in honor of its founder, the late Prof. Zev Lev, an internationally known physicist.
When the typists at the Hebrew University could not cope with the overload of work, the professors would take their papers to the few public stenographers then working in the capital. Lev frequently took his to Roth - and not always during regular working hours. One night, he turned up at her home at 9 p.m. She had just managed to feed her family and put her children to bed, and she was ready for bed herself. But he insisted that she must type an abstract for him. Typing for a physicist in a pre-computer, pre-electric typewriter age was not easy, and Roth was somewhat surprised to find that this time, the paper did not include the usual calculations and equations. It was in fact the outline for JCT, the city's first institute of higher learning that combined talmudic learning with scientific studies and was obviously intended for fund-raising purposes.
"How are you going to sell this idea to anyone?" she asked Lev, who was known for rising in the predawn hours to study Talmud before going to the university. His formula was simple: "I'm going to tell the academics and secular people that it's going to be a university, and I'm going to tell the rabbis and other religious people that it's going to be a yeshiva."
Needless to say, it was a formula that worked, and JCT, whose students and alumni have come up some incredible inventions in a number of fields, including acceptable ways to circumvent halachic prohibitions, is one of the country's great success stories.
ECONOMIC CRISES notwithstanding, the name of Ofra Strauss, chairwoman of the Strauss Group, keeps cropping up on lists published by Forbes magazine that maintains tabs on the most powerful and wealthiest people primarily in the US but also around the globe. Strauss is the only Israeli included in the new Forbes list of the 50 most powerful women in business. She ranks 45th. However, as powerful as she is, Strauss has yet to be named in the Forbes list of billionaires. As far as women go, Shari Arison is still the only Israeli to be included in that list. In the list published last March, Arison was ranked 234 among the world's (male and female) billionaires, with an estimated fortune of $2.7 billion.
APROPOS ARISON, she has proved herself to be a loyal friend. After her spirited but fruitless defense of Dan Dankner, who eventually yielded to the pressures of the Bank of Israel and resigned as chairman of Bank Hapoalim, Arison appointed him CEO of the Arison Investment Group. That doesn't mean that he can put his finger back into the Hapoalim pie, but it does indicate to the Bank of Israel that Arison does not leave a wounded soldier in the field.