THE NAME of Ahmed Ould Teguedi, the ambassador of Mauritania, has already been removed from the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic list. Teguedi was the longest serving resident ambassador after Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Henri Etoundi Essomba, the ambassador of Cameroon. Teguedi presented his credentials in January 2000. Most heads of foreign missions serve for two to four years. Essomba has served as ambassador since October, 1998, but prior to that was Cameroon’s Charge d’Affaires. With Teguedi’s recall to Mauritania and what appears to be the severing of diplomatic relations, Angola’s Ambassador Joese Joao Manuel has now moved into second place in the list of long serving envoys. Manuel presented his credentials in 2001.
JEWS OF Polish background, especially first and second generation Holocaust survivors or those who lost family members in the Holocaust, tend to have a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards Poland. They retain certain aspects of Polish culture but are always suspicious of Polish motives towards Jews. After their experiences with Poles during the Holocaust and later under the Communist regime, they find it difficult to grasp Poland’s sudden embrace of its Jewish past. Former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who was born and raised in Poland, used to say that Poles ingest anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk, and there are many Polish-born Jews who agree with him. While anti-Semitism has not entirely disappeared from Poland, a new positive attitude born of curiosity, a sense of loss and perhaps guilt is emerging among young Poles born long after the Holocaust. An outstanding example of this new facet of Poland is Sebastian Rejak, 35, a member of the Bureau for Polish-Jewish Relations at the Polish Foreign Ministry. A Lublin-born Catholic, who speaks fluent Hebrew as well as impeccable English, Rejak was in Israel last week to launch the book ‘Thinking After the Holocaust: Voices from Poland,’ a trilingual publication of eight essays by eight Polish intellectuals, most of whom are not Jewish. The book, which is Rejak’s brainchild, was published with the support of the Polish Foreign Ministry and distributed free of charge in Israel with the assistance of the Polish Institute and the World Jewish Congress.
At the Israel launch of the book at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, Rejak said that as a child he rarely heard any reference to Jews, but with the passing of time, he realized that his city had been half Jewish. When he began studying theology, it became clear to him that the core of all that he was studying was Judaism.
In his new found awareness of a thousand years of Jewish history in Poland, he felt a terrible sense of emptiness as he wandered through the streets of Lublin. He did not know a single Jew in Lublin, and it bothered him that a city with such a famous yeshiva was bereft of Jews. He then began to ask about how Jews relate to the Holocaust. “I couldn’t pretend that it didn’t relate to me,” he said. “Jews used to be part of my nation and made important contributions to Polish culture.” As a schoolboy, Rejak had been taken to Majdanek and shown the furnaces and the gas chambers, but no one told him that Jews were murdered there. It was only when he was in his 20s that he realized that the death camp had been built for Jews. “What right do I have to be silent just because I was born a Pole after the war?” he asked an audience comprised largely of Polish Jewish expatriates, several of whom were Holocaust survivors, and some of whom had survived Auschwitz and other death camps. Quoting Hillel, who said that one cannot judge or understand another person until one has walked a mile in his shoes, Rejak said that it was not by chance that the cover of the book features an endless display of shoes from Majdanek concentration and extermination camp. “You don’t have to go to a museum to learn the fate of the Jews. You just have to look at the thousands and thousands of shoes that don’t belong to anyone any more. They have outlived their owners.”
WHILE THERE is still a question mark about the role that Dan Meridor will play in the new Likud-led government, there is no doubt about the role his wife Dr. Liora Meridor will play on the executive council of Tel Aviv University. Symbolically, on International Women’s Day, Meridor, a highly respected economist who in the past held a number of important banking positions and currently sits on the boards of several of Israel’s leading companies, was unanimously elected chair of the TAU executive council, replacing Dov Lautman, who stepped down after eight years at the helm. Lautman said of Meridor that her broad experience as a member of the board of diverse companies, institutions and organizations would stand her in good stead in her new position.
SEVERAL MEMBERS of the diplomatic corps, some of whom volunteer at Schneider Children’s Medical Center and some of whom support the Our Children Foundation, the Schneider friends’ organization, were among the merrymakers at the foundation’s annual Purim Ball held at and in cooperation with the Sheraton Tel Aviv hotel and towers. The event, sponsored by the Sheraton Hotel, Bank Hapoalim and Teva Pharmaceuticals, was dominated by Beatles music, played by the Beatles for Sale tribute band. Proceeds went to the neonatal department, run by Professor Lea Sirota. Among those obviously having a good time were US Ambassador James Cunningham and his wife Leslie, Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda and his wife Nahla, Nigerian Ambassador Dada Olissa and his wife Janice, Dry Bones cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen, who is recovering from a hip injury, and his wife artist Sali Ariel, Miri and Sammy Azouri, Henry Taic, Evelyn Douek and Devora Chen.
BEFORE SHE met her husband, Michelle Katz was a professional lounge singer in Jerusalem hotels. After her marriage she took a back seat professionally, while her husband Yehuda, the founder and lead singer of the Reva L’Sheva band, stepped into the limelight. For Michelle, singing was more than a profession. It was something she simply loved to do, and once in a while, when she was visiting a hotel to meet relatives or friends from abroad, she would sneak away from the table and sit down alongside the hotel pianist to sing whatever was being played. That’s how she got friendly with Marina Levinsky, the resident pianist at the David Citadel Hotel. One of Katz’s best friends is journalist and former schoolteacher Ruth Beloff, who always dreamed of being a torch singer, but was too shy to get up and perform solo in front of an audience. When they first met several years ago, there was instant chemistry between the two women, and they found it easy to sing together – so much so that they even sing duets on the telephone. Last week they invited some friends to a sing-a-long at Beloff’s apartment in Jerusalem – and Levinsky also came along with her keyboard. She had never heard of some of the songs that people wanted to sing, but with her classical training and musical ear, picked up the melodies within seconds after Katz sang them to her. Everyone was having such a good time, especially those who spontaneously got up to dance, that there was a reluctance to go home.
When they realized how easy it was to make people happy at no cost, Katz and Beloff started thinking seriously about having such evenings on a regular basis, though not necessarily at Beloff’s apartment. They would rather have the use of a hotel, once a week or once a month, where they could give not only their friends, but also hotel guests, a feeling of home away from home, by getting everyone caught up in the music.
THE unmistakable aroma of freshly pulled Murphy’s Irish Stout coupled with a unique blend of Irish brogue and Hebrew greeted local Tel Aviv Cinematheque patrons plus special invitees attending a reception hosted by Irish Ambassador Michael Forbes prior to the screening of ‘The Ballroom of Romance” which officially opened the annual Irish Film Week. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was unable to attend, but greetings on his behalf were conveyed by his special assistant for cultural affairs Zohar Shavit. In opening the proceedings, TA Cinematheque General Manager Alon Garbuz had a particularly warm word of welcome to the guest of honor, former education minister Likud MK Limor Livnat. In his introduction to the movie, Forbes reminded the audience that the Irish Film Week is now celebrating its tenth anniversary in Tel Aviv, which he said was not only an occasion for the Irish to meet up and start their March St. Patrick’s Day festivities, but had also turned into a reunion. It was certainly that for two former Jerusalem Post staff members, Tipperary’s Tom O’Dwyer, the paper’s former foreign editor and Dubliner, and Malcolm Gafson, past Jerusalem Post Tel Aviv office Bureau Manager, who now manages the English Atmosphere El Al inflight magazine. Gafson, whose delightful brogue remains undiminished, was as always wearing his other hat, that of the effervescent Chairman of the Israel Ireland Friendship League. There’s so much of the leprechaun in him that it’s hard to believe that his ancestry is Latvian and Lithuanian.
IF YOU saw someone wearing a talit of which the front sections were in a marine blue tartan, it was not because it was Purim. Believe it or not, it’s the official Scottish Jewish tartan created by heritage experts and rabbis and the only Scottish Jewish Tartan approved and registered by the Scottish Tartans Authority. The brainchild of Rabbi Mendel Jacobs, the only Scottish born rabbi living in Scotland, who wanted to combine his Jewish heritage with his national heritage, the Scottish Jewish prayer shawl is 100 per cent kosher and incorporates several aspects of Scottish-Jewish cultural history. Jews have lived in Scotland for centuries. The oldest record of a Jew living there dates back to 1691. Whether jokingly or seriously, multi-generational Scottish Jews have occasionally expressed a desire to have their own tartan, and now it’s available. The tartan design incorporates blue and white, the colors of both the Israeli and Scottish flags, with the central gold line representing the gold from the ark in the Biblical Tabernacle and many ceremonial vessels. The silver represents the silver that adorns the Torah scroll and red represents the Kiddush wine. There are seven lines – a significant number to Jews – in the central motif. The talit and other ritual items incorporating the Scottish Jewish tartan are available from koshereverything.com. A percentage of profits from sales is dedicated to charitable endeavors.
EVEN THOUGH there was huge, beautifully decorated cake surrounded with candles, the birthday honoree was not there. After all, he died in 1916, However, because of his great contribution to Jewish literature and theater, the 150th birthday of Sholom Aleichem, the nom de plume of Sholom Rabinovich, was being celebrated last week in Kiev, New York and Tel Aviv as well as points elsewhere. The popular Russian-born humorist, who took his talent to America and died in New York, was a Yiddish writer of novels, short stories and plays which have been translated into many languages. He was also a pioneer of Yiddish literature for children and unselfishly promoted other Yiddish writers. He is best known for his stories of Tevye the Milkman, subsequently adapted to become the enormously popular musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” His fictional town of Kasrelivke is not on the map, but pilgrims to his hometown in what is now Ukraine often go looking for it.
More than 250 Limmud FSU activists came together at Beit Shalom Aleichem in Tel Aviv last week to celebrate the writer’s birthday, among them Matthew Bronfman, the International Chairman of Limmud FSU, who came by on his way to the airport prior to returning to the US. Other guest included MKs Anastasia Michaeli and Zev Elkin, along with Yiddishpiel founder Shmuel Atzmon (dressed as Sholom Aleichem), his actress/singer daughter Anat and Chaim Chesler, founder of Limmud FSU. Bronfman’s connection with Limmud is not at all surprising. His father Edgar was the long time president of the World Jewish Congress and his grandmother Saydie was a great advocate for culture in general and Jewish culture in particular. The Saydie Bronfman Theater, which incorporated the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theater – which is today run by Wasserman’s daughter Bryna and is the only permanent resident Yiddish theater in North America – was a Montreal landmark for 40 years. The Saydie Bronfman Theater was renamed four years ago after a huge cash infusion by philanthropists Leanor and Alvin Segal, and is now known as the Segal Center for Performing Arts at the Saydie. Matthew Bronfman was among those who gathered around the cake at Beth Shalom Aleichem to blow out the 150 candles ranged around images of Kasrelivka created with icing sugar.
ALTHOUGH HIS present position precludes him from traveling abroad as frequently as he used to, President Shimon Peres makes a point of visiting cities and towns all over Israel. On Thursday and Friday of last week, for example, he was in Eilat to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the hoisting of the ink flag at Um el Rash Rash by Negev brigade Company Commander Avraham Adan, better known by his nickname of Bren. The president started off this week by traveling on Sunday to Metulla on the Lebanese border, and then touring much of the northern Galilee. On average, Peres makes at least one such visit every week and, with an eye to the future, he asks that events built around these visits include children from kindergarten age to high school.
FORMER US Ambassador to Israel, Richard Jones, who is currently Deputy Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, will be briefly returning to Israel next week to participate in the National Conference on Energy which will be held on Monday at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv.
WHILE MANY Jerusalemites will be sitting down to a Purim meal today, members of the Jerusalem Rotary Club, which meets on Wednesdays at the YMCA, will be celebrating their 80th anniversary. The founding meeting of the Jerusalem Rotary Club took place on January 22, 1929 at the St. John’s hotel in the Old City with 21 charter members, most of whom were British. The first president was J.W. Crowfoot, a British archaeologist, and the secretary was Vladimir Wolfson, the manager of Shell Oil. The Jerusalem Rotary Club was founded three weeks minus one day after the founding of the Cairo Rotary Club. Both clubs were chartered on March 11, 1929, and each was the first in its country. Early members included Jews, Christians and Muslims. Religious, ethnic and national frictions did not intrude on meetings, and the spirit of goodwill and understanding among nations that prompted the founding of Rotary in Chicago in 1905 continues in Jerusalem, with members of different faiths and backgrounds coming together in mutual respect to work for the common good. The Jerusalem Rotary Club and the Haifa Rotary Club will get together in Jerusalem on March 26 to celebrate the Haifa Club’s 75th anniversary, and in June the District Convention of Rotary will celebrate the 80th anniversary of Rotary in Israel, and this event will also be held in Jerusalem.
IT SEEMS that being director-general of Beit Hatefutsoth is far from being a lifetime job. In less than a decade there have been three directors-general of the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora: David Alexander, Roni Finzi and Hasia Yizraeli. Despite the many compliments for her work during her three years of tenure, Yizraeli has decided to return to the Jewish Agency.
And now Beit Hatefutsoth can say that four people have held the post of director-general in less than a decade. The newest and current is Avinoam Armoni, who will take over from Yizraeli at the beginning of April. Yizraeli took over the running of the museum during its revamping and rehabilitation period, and played a major role in its reorganization and long term strategic plans. Admoni comes with good credentials. He was previously special adviser to the Edmund J. Safra Foundation and Vice President for external relations at the Hebrew University from which he had graduated in law several years earlier. He also has a second degree from Harvard University where he majored in macro-economics and urban management.