Human rights activists, leading figures from various peace camps, politicians, diplomats, artists, journalists, and even a couple of medical practitioners were among the guests last week at the birthday party of Tel Aviv social activist and socialite Alice Krieger.
For some of the regulars, the opportunity to congregate at Krieger’s north Tel Aviv home was by way of an annual August reunion, as not all of them see one another elsewhere during the year. For first-timers it was a fascinating experience, and several of them told the hostess that they were thrilled to meet so many interesting people whom they might otherwise not have met.
Krieger wears many hats, and among other things she is known for her Friday night dinners at which she brings together diplomats, academics and peace activists so that the diplomats can get a broader picture of Israeli attitudes and not have to rely solely on what they hear from officialdom. The guest list occasionally includes Palestinians, as it did at her birthday party.
The internationally best known among the Palestinians mingling in the crowd was Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a widowed physician from Gaza, who worked in Israel and has many Israeli friends and admirers. Three of his daughters and a niece were killed when Israeli planes fired on Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. Unable to bring himself to stay in the region any longer and fearful for the safety of his remaining children, he resettled with his family in Canada, where he is involved in human rights and peace projects. Also present was the Israeli-Arab journalist Bashar Odeh, who lives in the Galilee and writes frequently on Palestinian issues.
Israeli guests included Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, the recently elected president of Rabbis for Human Rights; Shaqued Morag, the director of Peace Now; Lior Amihai, the executive director of Yesh Din; Baruch Shalev, the co-chairman of Ossim Shalom; Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli; Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal; Assaf Harel, who is competing in Tel Aviv’s mayoral race; expatriate historian and social activist Ilan Pappé, who now lives in England; artist and author Yair Garbuz; and Yuval Roth, founder and CEO of the Road to Recovery, for which he has recruited more than a thousand volunteers who meet sick children from Gaza and the Palestinian Authority at the checkpoints, bring them for treatments to Israeli hospitals, where they stay with them, and then later drive them back to the checkpoints.
There were of course many other notables, including representatives of Combatants for Peace.
It has not been an easy year for Krieger, who underwent painful and complicated surgery for knee replacements, but she was happy to tell her guests that this had not prevented her from walking a long distance the previous Saturday night to participate in the Arab demonstration against the Nation-State Law. Needless to say, the controversial legislation was a hot topic of conversation at the party, not only in the address by the hostess but also among many of the guests.
British-born Krieger, who came to Israel as an ardent Zionist more years ago than she cared to disclose, said that this is not the Israel that she embraced with such fervor in her younger years. She looks forward to the day when there would eventually be a Palestinian state whose citizens would live in peace and harmony alongside their Israeli neighbors, and the word “occupied” would no longer be part of the political lexicon.
■ APROPOS ZIONISTS, President Reuven Rivlin, at a meeting last week with members of the Herzog and Rubinstein families, following the awarding earlier this year of the Chaim Herzog Lifetime Achievement Prize to Elyakim Rubinstein, who has since retired from the bench of the Supreme Court, lamented the pervasively negative attitude in Israeli society, whereby if someone holds views that are different from yours on matters of national importance, he or she is automatically labeled a non- or anti-Zionist or, worse still, a leftist.
■ THERE’S A lot of nostalgia lately for a romanticized Zionism that may not have actually existed, but which many people who are dissatisfied with the policies of the present government like to recall as some utopian period in Jewish history. But if the truth be known, Jews were always squabbling among themselves.
It’s nice to say that the Torah and the Sabbath kept Jews together, and in some respects they did, but there are also proud nonobservant Jews, committed to ongoing Jewish existence, and to the flourishing of the State of Israel. Included among them are many generous philanthropists for whom religion takes low priority in their lives. Among them are two of the most generous of British philanthropists who support both Jewish and non-Jewish causes, but who have given literally hundreds of millions of dollars, or rather pounds Sterling, to Israel over the years, and continue to do so. One is Lord Jacob Rothschild, and another is Dame Vivien Duffield.
Israel is so obsessed with America and Americans that it forgets that although American Jews who came from Eastern Europe put a coin in the blue box every Friday before candlelighting, the original megabucks came from British Jewry – Sir Moses Montefiore, the Sieff family, who funded the beginnings of the Weizmann Institute of Science, founded WIZO and became involved in a mosaic of social welfare, cultural and educational projects. The Porter family, most of whom are now living in Israel, have given huge sums for education and environmental projects. Della and Fred Worms, who also moved to Israel, were enthusiastic supporters of the Israel Museum, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and various cultural and sporting projects. Among some of the other leading British philanthropists were Sir Isaac Wolfson, who did much for Israel, Maurice and Vivienne Wohl, whose foundation continues to fund Israeli projects long after the decease of both, and Sir George Weidenfeld, who maintained a close association with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Among the current leading philanthropists who are sharing some of their wealth with Israel are Sir Ronald Cohen and David Dangoor. But their names are seldom in the Israeli media, compared with the frequency of publicity given to Sheldon Adelson, Ronald Lauder, Charles Bronfman, Michael Steinhardt, Matthew Bronfman, Lynn Schusterman, Morton Mandel and Robert Kraft – to name but a few.
Lauder on one side of the Atlantic Ocean and Duffield on the other have created furor by daring to criticize Israel’s policies and voicing fears about the rupturing effect that these policies may have on Israel-Diaspora relations. Each has more or less been chastised and told that they don’t know what they’re talking about. It has even been suggested that their knowledge of Israel is from a cocoon of high living from which they sign checks. Duffield, 72, has been coming on frequent visits to Israel since she was nine years old. Her late father, Sir Charles Clore, was also a generous benefactor. She’s very much a hands-on donor, including projects in Arab villages.
Lauder, 74, who is a former American diplomat, who has also undertaken diplomatic missions on behalf of Israel, is currently the president of the World Jewish Congress, in which capacity he meets with world leaders, but also with tiny, far-flung Jewish communities. Even prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain, Lauder became involved with Jewish revival in Eastern Europe and funded kindergartens, schools and other Jewish community activities. He has been involved with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Theological Seminary, Brandeis University and The Abraham Fund.
In Israel he has been a serious investor, whose business interests made a positive impact on Israel’s communications industry, and he has initiated impressive KKL-JNF projects in the Negev as well as an employment bureau whose purpose is to keep graduates of Ben-Gurion University in the Negev by matching them up with major companies currently operating in the Negev, or planning to move part or all of their operations to the Negev.
Criticism of Israel is seldom perceived in this country as being constructive. Israel is as defensive as a horse with blinkers. What’s the point of talking about tikun olam, repairing the world, if one refuses to acknowledge what needs fixing?
■ NOTWITHSTANDING THEIR disappointment with Israel’s policy-makers, Lauder and Duffield remain avid Zionists who continue to give to Israel. Being out of step with Israel’s policies does not make them anti-Zionist, and in Lauder’s case, certainly not a leftist, as though that were a dirty word.
But the mega donor who continues to attract the most attention is Adelson, who with his Israeli wife, Miriam, continues to pour tens of millions of dollars into Israel. After having opened a school for entrepreneurship at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, they donated $20 million to Ariel University for the establishment of the Miriam and Sheldon Adelson School of Medicine. The Hebrew media, overlooking the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hosting US National Security Adviser John Bolton to dinner at more or less the same time as the inauguration ceremony in Ariel, made much of the fact that he had not been invited, and suggested that there has been an acute cooling off in relations between Adelson and Netanyahu, and that Adelson is now more interested in Education Minister and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.
Whether Netanyahu had been there or not, attendance was a must for Bennett in his present ministerial role. For obvious political reasons, he was also in the forefront of those pushing for a fifth school of medicine, given the geography and Israel’s acute shortage of medical personnel. The Ariel University School of Medicine joins those at the Hebrew University Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Bar-Ilan University.
Rivlin, who recalled having attended the laying of the cornerstone ceremony for the university, which was originally a college, 36 years ago, paid tribute to one of the founders and longtime mayor of Ariel, the late Ron Nachman, who, even while fighting cancer, put so much effort into making Ariel a normal city with full community services, employment and leisure time pursuits. Speaking in part to Nachman and in part to the founders and supporters of the university who fought hard to upgrade its status from college to university, Rivlin said:
“When they mocked, you all built. While they shouted, you created a marvelous institution. While they boycotted, you proved that an excellent academic center was established here, an academy that accepted every student, male or female, without regard for their race, color, religion or gender.” That, by the way includes Palestinian students. A healthcare facility that will be built alongside the school for medicine will serve the whole population of the area, not just the Jewish population.
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman spoke about the difficulties of keeping young Israeli doctors in Israel. The remuneration they receive is ludicrous in comparison to what they can earn in the United States, he said. During a visit to the US a couple of months back, Litzman spoke to Jewish physicians who were heading hospital departments, or who were among the leading physicians in those departments, and learned that most were Israelis. He couldn’t expect them to return to receive a meager Israeli salary, he said.
His sole consolation is that many Israeli doctors who have spent a long time abroad eventually want to come home and are given positions as heads of hospital departments. The problem, he emphasized, is that these doctors are needed now, and not only at some time in the future. He also underscored the need for more doctors in peripheral areas where he said the Health Ministry intends to increase the number of MRI and PET-CT machines.
Litzman also spoke of the shortage of hospital beds and the need to overcome this situation.
Bennett, who has been acting if he also holds the defense portfolio, and has been highly critical of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, also injected some of this into his address with regard to the situation on both sides of the fence separating Israel from Gaza. He also attacked the Council for Higher Education for attempting to block the construction of a medical school in Ariel. The school will become fully functional in 2019.
■ UNTIL HIS death in May 2017 at age 96, The Jerusalem Post frequently took pride in its resident archivist, historian, man of many talents and most veteran employee, Alexander Zvielli, who joined the paper in 1945 and remained in its employ for 72 years. These days it’s becoming increasingly rare to stay in any job for more than just a few years, as was noted by Yediot Aharonot Editor-in-Chief Ron Yaron in his farewell letter to the paper’s staff this week.
Yaron, who will be leaving at the end of the month after 26 years at the paper and eight years in his present role, wrote: “I’m here for 26-and-a-half years. That’s more than the number of years in which I know my wife. It’s an eternity in terms of today’s labor market, in which people change jobs and professions every few years. This chapter will now close for me. Yes, I’m sad that it’s happening. Yes, it hurts that it’s ending. Yes, I’m worried about the future, but I am completely fine with the decision I have taken.”
Among the teachers featured in an Israel Hayom “back to school” series is Shula Frenkel of Rehovot, who is listed by the Education Ministry as the most veteran teacher in the system. Frenkel, who has been teaching for 60 years, continues to prepare students from the Amit school network for their bagrut exams in English, and currently teaches in two high schools. She began teaching at age 19 at Jerusalem’s Horev School.
Recently, she received a telephone call from a former student who had been in her first class, inviting her to a class reunion. She accepted the invitation and had an emotional get-together with people whom she knew as children and who are today parents and grandparents of children of their own.
Frenkel would have liked to continue her own education, but has many times yielded to requests to keep teaching. It’s something she really enjoys; and when preparing the lessons, she suspects that she works harder than any of her students.
■ THE ANNUAL Balfour Day gala dinner hosted in November by the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association is always graced by two keynote speakers – one from Britain and one from Israel. Organizers of last year’s dinner would have dearly liked to have the present Lord Balfour as the British speaker for the centenary year of the Balfour Declaration, but he was otherwise engaged, and the most ideal person after him was Rothschild, whose relative received the famous letter from the British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour, who later became the first Lord Balfour. The hereditary title is accorded only to male members of the Balfour family.
Roderick, the present and fifth Lord Balfour, is actually the great-grandson of Arthur’s brother Eustace James Anthony Balfour. Roderick was in Israel in September last year to attend the From Balfour to Brexit conference that was held at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem. He will be back in Israel this year to speak at IBCA’s Balfour dinner at the Tel Aviv Hilton on November 7, this time in honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary.
The Israeli speaker will be recently elected Jewish Agency chairman and former opposition leader in the Knesset Isaac Herzog, who though not related to the Rothschilds is nonetheless an ideal choice in that his late father, Chaim Herzog, was an officer in the British Army during the Second World War; his great-grandfather Rabbi Shmuel Yitzhak Hillman served as a judge on the London Beth Din, while Herzog’s grandfather, for whom he is named, was a graduate of the University of London before he became the first chief rabbi of the State of Israel.
Herzog’s father was the chairman of IBCA some 50 years ago, and presided over the 50th anniversary dinner commemorating the Balfour Declaration, which was held in the Knesset. Some years later, as the sixth president of Israel, he was a guest speaker at the dinner. As president of Israel, Chaim Herzog occupied a position first held by Chaim Weizmann, who had a profound influence on foreign secretary Balfour. Herzog was succeeded by Ezer Weizman, who was a nephew of Chaim Weizmann. The strands of history have an interesting weave.
■ THE TRULY hospitable host or hostess usually checks out whether guests are allergic to any particular foods, or whether there are foods that they simply don’t eat. The American Embassy has gone a step further in issuing invitations to the pre-Rosh Hashanah toast to be hosted by US Ambassador David Friedman and his wife, Tammy. In asking guests to indicate their dietary preferences, they have listed as options vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, regular kosher, glatt and mehadrin kosher. Guests have also been asked to specify food allergies.
■ VISITORS TO Poland between August 25 and September 2 should not miss out on the Festival of Jewish Culture, otherwise known as Singer’s Warsaw, in memory of Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, who grew up there. The festival was founded by actress of the Yiddish stage, scriptwriter and poet Golda Tencer, who continues to be its director.
Many Jews around the world are familiar with the annual Krakow Jewish Festival, which started a few years before the Warsaw Jewish Festival, but the formats of the two are similar, with attention to both the performing and visual arts, plus several workshops, lectures, et al. that all have some kind of Jewish connection. Performers both Jewish and non-Jewish come from different parts of the world as well as Poland, and Israel is always well represented.
Among the Israeli performers are singer guitarist David Broza, El Hameshorer rock band, The Voices of Israel Ensemble conducted by Yaakov Rotner, the Nephesh Theater ensemble featuring Maayan Weinstock, Nadia Kutcher, Ami Weinberg, Talia Dor, Roni Dotan, Yonatan Schwartz, Yoli Seker and Dori Engel, who will present two plays, Hana’s Suitcase and Gimpel the Fool; and the Yiddish Theater Yiddishpiel, which will also present two productions: Dan Almagor’s famous musical drama Once there was a Hassid, which has been translated into Yiddish, and another musical drama, Bay Mir Bistu Shein (By me you’re beautiful), which is the story of the famous American Jewish Barry Sisters.
Among the Yiddishpiel players appearing in both productions is Anat Atzmon, the daughter of Yiddishpiel founder Shmuel Atzmon, who will also be acting at the festival – but not with Yiddishpiel. He will be appearing with the Jewish Theater of Warsaw, which will stage Kasrylewka Town, based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem. A special guest at the festival will be Merav Chen, the granddaughter of Singer and the daughter of journalist, author and translator Israel Zamir, who died in 2014 at age 85, only a few months after visiting Bilgoraj, where his great-grandfather had been a rabbi.
Zamir, who Hebracized his name, was actually born in Warsaw, and was twice a guest of honor at the Jewish Festival. He and his mother had been abandoned by his father when Zamir was five years old, and more than 20 years passed before he saw his father again.
Growing up, Chen barely knew she had a grandfather, till when, on a trip to Mexico when she was 18, she decided to spend 10 days with him in New York.
Among the films being screened at the festival is 912 days of the Warsaw Ghetto, which shows exactly how Jews lived in the horrendous era of the Holocaust. Several of the festival performers will later go on tour to other parts of Poland.
■ ALTHOUGH SHE is the honorary consul for France in Netanya, which has become one of the popular enclaves for the recent influx of aliyah from France, Nathalie Mimoun actually lives in Herzliya Pituah, where she has opened an art gallery in her home. The Chabba Art Gallery, which is named for her grandmother, is frequently made available for a variety of cultural events and recently hosted pain specialist Dr. Orna Landau de Shalit, who is currently writing a book set in Geneva and Herzliya Pituah.
Landau de Shalit is working in collaboration with Laure Mi Hyun Croset, a prizewinning Korean-born Swiss author, who at a young age was adopted by a Swiss family. Croset, while on a visit to Israel, was invited by the vivacious Mimoun to discuss her most recent novel, Le Beau Monde, which was released this year by major French publisher Albin Michel.
The gallery proved to be an ideal backdrop for the occasion, and Croset charmed all those present, including Swiss Ambassador Jean-Daniel Ruch and his wife, Marie, who are always pleased to witness Swiss creativity in Israel. Whenever diplomats entertain, there is a good sprinkling of the international community among the guests, and this occasion was no exception.
■ ON THE various occasions that Netanyahu was subjected to questioning by police in connection with inquiries into a series of alleged corruption cases, the paparazzi were there in force to photograph the arrival of the men in blue, but basically all they were able to capture for posterity were police cars going past the security barriers in the street where the prime minister resides. On Friday of last week, after Netanyahu had been questioned for the last time in relation to what is known as Case 4000, the police exited the residence at around 2 p.m. and stood chatting by the front gate. But there wasn’t a single stills photographer or video crew in sight to visually record the end of at least one uncomfortable period in Netanyahu’s career.