The Jerusalem Post

Grapevine September 13, 2023: President of all

 PRESIDENT HERZOG at ‘selichot’ in Mea She’arim. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PRESIDENT HERZOG at ‘selichot’ in Mea She’arim.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Many of the residents of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim are declared active anti-Zionists, but apparently they have a healthy respect for Israeli President Isaac Herzog, whom they invited to participate in slichot (penitential prayers) at the Or Hahayim Yeshiva, where he was warmly received. Herzog is known to embrace Jewish tradition and religious practices. That, plus the fact that he is the grandson of the first chief rabbi of the State of Israel, may account for the fact that he is so favorably treated in religious circles. Herzog, who was greeted by Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, the head of the yeshiva, emphasized the importance of mutual love and responsibility as evidenced in the prayers which are recited in the plural and not the singular form because “everyone prays for all of Israel.” In the recitation of the Shema prayer, affirming the belief in the Divine Creator said Herzog,  the first words are in the collective “Hear O Israel,” and this obligates the national leadership and all those who work on behalf of the public, to demonstrate responsibility, and to safeguard the unity of Israel.

Netanyahu: Act responsibly

■ PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu came in for a lot of flack for his warning, regarding travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, that God does not always protect His people. The wording was slightly inaccurate in that people do not always recognize the signs that God puts before them, and sometimes act in a foolhardy manner. Netanyahu has asked them to act responsibly. The most responsible thing would be for those who usually make the pilgrimage to the grave site of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov to stay home this year and celebrate Rosh Hashanah with their families, instead of leaving them to mark the Holy Day alone. When Netanyahu spoke to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky a few days ago, the latter made it clear that Ukraine does not have enough bomb shelters for its own people, let alone foreigners. The imparting of that information should be accepted as a sign from God that He is protecting His people by warning them that they are, willfully, putting themselves in harm’s way. But it’s a sign that thousands have chosen to ignore

Rabin never signed the Oslo Accords

■ A MISTAKEN belief held by many, including yours truly, is that it was Yitzhak Rabin who signed the Oslo Accords with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Actually, it was not Rabin, but Shimon Peres, in the presence of Rabin and then-US president Bill Clinton. The error derives from the number of photographs published of Rabin shaking hands with Arafat subsequent to the signing ceremony.

Will Jack Lew come in October?

■ IT WOULD  not come as a surprise if United States Ambassador-Designate Jack Lew arrives in Israel by mid-October, in time to attend the official opening of the new National Library scheduled for October 17-20. Prior to his appointment, Lew was co-president, with David Makovsky (a former Jerusalem Post executive editor) of the American Board of the National Library of Israel. The completed project is obviously something that Lew would want to see. The library will be open to the public in early November. Meanwhile, the library has already been visited by Irish Ambassador-Designate Sonya McGuinness who accompanied Irish Foreign Affairs and Defense Minister Micheál Martin when he toured the new library last week and viewed some of the archives from the Genealogical History of the Irish Jewish Communities, presented to the Library last December. Among those on hand to greet the minister was Malcolm Gafson, chairman of the Israel Ireland Friendship League along with some of its members. Other visitors to the library have included the leading lights of Israel’s hi-tech industry, whose tour was organized by hi-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi. Aside from being impressed by the magnificence of the building, what interested them greatly were its varied uses of technology, including the robotic delivery of requested books.


Australian philanthropists

■ NEXT MONTH, Australian philanthropists Ruth and Robert Magid, who used to live in Israel, and who return periodically, will be in town for the official opening of the National Library and will dedicate the Robert and Ruth Magid Hall in honor of Dr Herbert V. Evatt, Foreign Minister of Australia and President of the UN General Assembly (1948-1949). Prior to that Evatt was chair of the Ad Hoc committee on the Palestinian question, and as such, he led negotiations that resulted in a majority vote for the Partition Plan that paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel. Evatt can be credited with playing a cardinal role in the changing destiny of the Middle East. Australia was the first country to cast the “yes” vote for the Partition of Palestine. Last year, the Magids were in Israel to receive honorary doctorates from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

 FROM LEFT, Batsheva Moshe, Michal Herzog, Yfat Reiter, and Hanni Sobol.  (credit: NEW MEDIA)
FROM LEFT, Batsheva Moshe, Michal Herzog, Yfat Reiter, and Hanni Sobol. (credit: NEW MEDIA)

Singaporeans show Israelis a high society wedding

■ PROMINENT SINGAPORE citizens Victor and Michelle Sassoon showed Israelis what a high society wedding looks like. The first time was in 2014 when they came to Jerusalem for the wedding of their daughter Cherie, and then again in March of this year for the marriage of another daughter, Natalie to Freddie Black of London. Last week, the wedding geography moved to London when their son Mordecai married Sarah Baruch, who accompanied him at his sister’s wedding. The bride is the daughter of Sophia and Nessim Baruch. In reporting the gala event in the Jewish Telegraph, Paul Harris wrote: “Even by London standards, the union of two families with Iraqi roots was one of the most spectacular simchas most had witnessed. Even a senior manager at London’s Park Lane Hilton told me that he had never seen anything like it in his 20 years at the hotel.”

As was the case with the Sassoon weddings in Israel, guests were Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, and came from many parts of Asia, Europe, Israel, and elsewhere in the Middle East, Canada, and the United States. All three weddings were conducted by Rabbi Mordechai Abergil, the chief rabbi of Singapore. He was assisted by Rabbi Netanel Rivni of Singapore, Rabbi Yosef Kantor of Thailand, Rabbi Moshe Pinto of Petach Tikva, and Dayan Abraham David of London. While the groom’s branch of the famed Sassoon family migrated from Iraq to Singapore, the bride’s family went to Iran, Israel, and London. Both families have extensive global business interests. Michelle Sassoon has a passion for flowers, which in their colorful multitudes, dominated the décor at the Western Marble Arch Synagogue as well as at the hotel.

Jerusalem elections

■ THERE ARE two significant questions regarding Jerusalem in the upcoming nationwide municipal elections next month. One is whether Yossi Havilio, who heads the center-Left coalition, will run for mayor against Moshe Lion, who currently has no contenders. The other is whether 34-year-old Malka Greenblatt will become the first haredi woman to sit on the Jerusalem City Council. Greenblatt is number two after Avishai Cohen in a newly founded faction called Achdut Yerushalayim.  (Jerusalem Unity). To earn a seat, she will need to score at least 10,000 votes. It’s possible that a lot of women who are not religious, let alone haredi, will vote for her, simply for the sake of adding another woman to the male-dominated council.  But the real question is whether she will be able to stay the course. She is not the first haredi woman to run for election in Jerusalem, but the others bowed out after receiving threats. In haredi society, a woman’s place is not in politics. In recent years, however, we’ve seen a new breed of educated haredi women who shine in business, medicine, hi-tech, science, and law – so there’s no reason to exclude them from the political arena. The haredi woman who arguably reached a peak in politics was Rivka Paluch, who was the religious affairs advisor to prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. Since 2008, Paluch has a weekly radio show, dealing with a wide range of topics. She is also the founder and CEO of RP Connections, a global consulting firm specializing in minority relations, business, real estate, and media, with particular emphasis on haredi communities.

Prince Harry and Invictus

■ SINCE HE moved to Los Angeles and began bad-mouthing some of his closest relatives, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex has been negatively treated by the British media. The Brits love their Royals more than they love royal scandals. But last week, all was forgiven, at least temporarily, when Harry opened the Invictus Games in Dusseldorf. Harry is passionate about Invictus, which he founded for injured armed forces veterans and military personnel. Invictus is like a mini-Olympics or Paralympics for veterans who were injured during the course of military service to their respective countries. Harry, who spent 10 years serving in Britain’s armed forces, attaining the rank of Captain, feels very much at ease at Invictus where he is a popular figure. Last week, the veterans gave him a standing ovation, which was a balm to his ego after having been snubbed by his kin during his recent visit to the United Kingdom.


At a reception hosted by the Dusseldorf Municipality, Harry, in a genial mood, networked his way around the room, making sure that he met representatives from every team. When he met Idan Kleiman, the chairman of the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization and the head of the Israeli Invictus team, Kleiman thanked him for the opportunity given to Israel to participate for the first time. “This is a historic event for us,” said Kleiman, who also thanked the Duke of Sussex for his public praise of the Beit Halohem rehabilitation facilities in which injured veterans are learning to reshape their lives. Harry had said that Beit Halohem was a rehabilitation model for the rest of the world. Kleiman concurred with Harry that sport is a significant factor in the rehabilitation process.

Stories about Poland

■ TWO STORIES about Poland last Friday in The Jerusalem Post Magazine, and in the weekend supplement of Haaretz captured the attention of this columnist. One was the story related to the cemetery in Czestochowa where my paternal grandmother and members of my mother’s family are buried. The other was about the city of Bedzin where my maternal grandmother was born. Unfortunately, she and my grandfather and their two youngest children have no grave. They were murdered in Treblinka. 

According to Ofer Aderet, the historian at Haaretz, who has a personal family interest in Poland, half the pre-war population of Bedzin was Jewish. Today, there are no Jews, but as in various Polish towns and cities, non-Jews have taken it upon themselves to preserve the memory of Jewish life by restoring synagogues, cleaning up the graves in Jewish cemeteries, and organizing Jewish festivals, the best-known of which is the annual Krakow Jewish festival. As for Bedzin, Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Joskowicz, a Ger Hasid from Israel, was born there, and returned to Poland in 1988, to serve as chief rabbi until 1999. On visits to Poland, I would ask him if he was related to my grandmother whose maiden name was Joskowicz.  He was always evasive. When he returned to Jerusalem, I went to his home and asked him again, and he admitted that they were related. When I asked why he had been so evasive in Poland, he refused to answer.

A new French consul general in Jerusalem

■ FRANCE’S AMBASSADOR designate was mentioned in Grapevine last week, but there is also a new French Consul General in Jerusalem, Nicolas Kassianides, who took up his duties this month. He is a dual national who grew up in Cyprus and has served in various diplomatic positions in French embassies, including the Cairo embassy. He has also participated in various negotiations concerning the Middle East. Prior to his present position, Kassianides, a seasoned diplomat, served as chief of staff of the Office of the Director General of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). As it happens, the Director of UNESCO is Audrey Azoulay, daughter of Andre Azoulay, who was roundly feted during his visit to Israel last week. Andre Azoulay is a senior advisor to King Mohammed VI of Morocco.

Women in business

■ WOMEN MAY well be the business leaders of the future. The full-page advertisements for business conferences that appear several times a week in Hebrew dailies feature names and faces of key participants, and in some instances, women outnumber men. Yozmot Atid (Entrepreneurs of the Future) seeks to reduce socio-economic gaps by empowering underprivileged women with the tools to start small businesses. It also takes leading Israeli business executives on tours of the businesses built by women who have gained financial freedom through participation in Yozmot Atid programs. One such tour last week included Michal Herzog, the wife of the president, who also participated in a panel discussion.

“I am a firm believer in the power of women to lead social change,” said Herzog. “It is so very moving to meet such a group of women, bravely leading change for themselves and their children; and serving as role models for future generations. I am deeply appreciative of the work of the Yozmot Atid project, which helps women attain the resources to lead initiatives, and gives them the tools to help them succeed. You are doing wonderful work, and I wish you much success,” she said.

Yozmot Atid CEO Tsofit Gordon noted the significance of the participation of the president’s wife. 

“Michal Herzog is an important voice of support for women entrepreneurs and for our organization’s activities. We fully appreciate her willingness to come and hear the stories of these women in person, incredibly moving stories filled with both personal and financial crises. Their journeys are those of rebirth, determination, and courage.”

 Yozmot Atid chairperson Batsheva Moshe said it never ceased to excite her to see the top executives of Israel’s business community participating in these moving tours with the goal of strengthening the important work of Yozmot Atid, “which provides guidance, tools, and hope to thousands of women on their path to financial independence.”

The tour, by buses, began at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa. From there, it proceeded to Rishon Lezion and Holon, then back to Jaffa, to the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yafo for concluding speeches and the panel discussion. During the tour, program alumni, who are proprietors of businesses in the sphere of beauty, food, graphic design, clothing, and fashion, told their exciting personal and business stories on the bus rides, demonstrating their determination, courage, and financial acumen. Among the executives who attended the event were: Nissim Bar-El, founder of Yozmot Atid; Adam Friedler and Ohad Sandlar, CEOs of GoodPharm; Yfat Reiter, CEO of AIG; Daganit Kremer, Deputy CEO of Partner; Hanny Sobol, CEO Diesenhaus; Ayelet Sarfati Rosen, former CEO of iDigital; Esther Luzzatto, CEO of the Luzzatto Group; Galit Zucker, COO HR Soda Stream; Doron Averbuch, CEO Deutsche Bank; Dror Bahat, Marketing COO at YES; Vered Ramon Rivlin, journalist; Tal Baskes, CEO of the Israeli Association of Community Centers; Yair Bitton, CEO of DHL Worldwide Express; Michal Dan-Harel, CEO of Manpower Group; Neil Corney, CEO of Citi Israel; Sonia Nastase, CEO of Nespresso; educator and columnist Adina Bar-Shalom; Ron Wexler, chairperson of American Express, and more.

Women in politics

■ ALTHOUGH WOMEN are increasingly seen in high-ranking positions in hi-tech, industry, medicine science, law, and journalism, they appear to be regressing in political circles. It’s hard enough to score enough votes to be elected a member of the municipal council, let alone mayor.

Aliza Bloch made history during the last municipal elections when she was elected mayor of a city with a large ultra-Orthodox population. Now, Orna Barbivai is vying for the position of mayor of Tel Aviv, which is largely secular. Yael Dayan made it to deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, but the city that never stops has never had a female mayor. Will Barbivai turn the tables? The longest-serving female mayor is Netanya’s Miriam Feierberg Ikar, who has been in office for a quarter of a century. Although she is widely reputed to have been Israel’s first elected female mayor, possibly because of the longevity of her tenure, this common misconception indicates that the public either forgets or simply doesn’t know history. Feierberg Ikar was preceded by Chana Levin, who in the late 1950s was elected mayor of Rishon Lezion. But even before that Nechama Pukhachevsky, a woman farmer and author, tried to stand for head of the local council when Rishon Lezion still had the status of a village. She was told, then, that as women were not permitted to vote for the local council, a woman could hardly compete for any role on the council. Pukhachevsky kept pushing for women to be given the right to vote. Eventually, she triumphed, and in 1919, she finally won her initial battle and was elected to chair the council.

Women in sports

■ WOMEN ARE also increasingly coming to the fore in sports, locally and internationally. Judoka Yael Arad, the first Israeli to win an Olympic medal, and to become chair of the Israel Olympic Committee – following the death of Alex Giladi – was unanimously elected to join the International Olympic Committee. The IOC is one of the few organizations that can truly boast gender equality. Of 546 positions across the full spectrum of the organization, 273 are held by women and 273 by men.

Ron Prosor, male model?

■ DIPLOMATS ARE often called on to do things that, when they entered the foreign service, were far from their wildest dreams. It’s a safe bet to say that Israel’s ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor never imagined himself as a male model – certainly not a month ahead of his 65th birthday, and especially at the tail end of a distinguished diplomatic career. But when duty called and simultaneously entailed the closing of a circle, Prosor last week proudly strode the runway at Berlin’s 36th  annual Festival of Jewish Culture, which reportedly was the largest ever with huge attendances at events, including the creme de la creme of Jewish talents from around the world in a variety of disciplines which included fashion. Prosor modeled a suit by Israeli designer Doron Ashkenazi, who was one of a handful of Israeli designers displaying their creativity.

As for the closing of a circle, Prosor said he thought that his grandmother, Friedl Proskauer, who in the 1920s influenced fashion in Berlin, would be very proud that he was involved in exhibiting one aspect of Israeli fashion.

Food with the German embassy

■ IN ISRAEL a few days later, the German Embassy in Tel Aviv in cooperation with the Kitchen FoodTech Hub by Strauss, Start-Up Nation Central, and Asif Culinary Institute of Israel, got together to gift a 75th anniversary cake to the State of Israel in the week of the commencement of the Jewish New Year. Included in the ingredients were innovative products of Israeli food-tech companies, delicately baked by Estella M. Belfer, widely recognized as one of Israel’s finest pastry chefs. On hand for the cutting of the cake at a reception held at Asif on legendary Lilienblum Street, was German Ambassador Steffen Seibert.

Bar-Ilan prof. goes to Stanford

■ Bar-Ilan University Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum, a leading historian and expert on the modern Middle East specializing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, has been appointed a Visiting Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University for the 2023-24 academic year by the director of the Hoover Institution, former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Teitelbaum will engage in historical research about the Saudi armed forces and will speak to Stanford faculty and students about the findings of his research. He teaches Middle Eastern history in the department of Middle Eastern Studies at BIU and is principal research Fellow at the University’s Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.

Teitelbaum has a long-standing relationship with Stanford University, where he has taught and engaged in research in the past. His forthcoming book, The Saudi Arabian National Guard: Tribalism, the Royal Family, and Politics in Modern Saudi Arabia, will be published by Stanford University Press.

Balfour Day dinner

■ COVID AND other considerations precluded the holding, last year and the year before, of the traditional Balfour Day Dinner, which is the flagship event of the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association (IBCA). But considering that this is Israel’s 75th anniversary year and that the path to Israel’s statehood was forged in Britain, nothing would stop IBCA members from having a Balfour Day dinner this year. The date is Thursday, November 9. The venue is the Daniel Hotel, Herzliya. Balfour Day dinners are always graced by two keynote speakers – one from Israel and one from Britain. The Israeli speaker will be Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who spent part of his youth in England when his father worked there; and the British speaker will be the Right Honorable Ed Balls, co-chair of the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Foundation and a former secretary of state for Children, Schools and Families, in the UK government.