■ POPULAR SINGER and commentator on current affairs Yigal Bashan suggested in his radio program on Reshet Bet last Friday that retired champion footballer Haim Revivo would be the best person to mend fences between Israel and Turkey. Revivo played for various Turkish teams and once succeeded in having a game rescheduled so that he would not have to play on Yom Kippur. When he left Turkey, one of the people who asked him to reconsider was none other than Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, who happens to be a keen football fan and who admired Revivo’s prowess on the field. In political statements during his 2005 visit to Israel, Erdogan mentioned jokingly that he would have been happy to compromise on several issues if Revivo had remained in Turkey.

■ UP UNTIL last Thursday, professional and amateur bookmakers were taking bets as to whether it would be Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres or neither who would represent Israel at the United Nations General Assembly. There were some people who were on tenterhooks in case it was Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who has been known to make the most undiplomatic of statements at diplomatic gatherings.

But though he was reportedly unwilling to go, it was Netanyahu who took up the gauntlet. What prompted him? Who knows. But he or one of his top aides may very well have been listening to the Israel Radio interview with former Israel ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman who, while certain that Peres would do a great job in presenting Israel’s case, said that it should be Netanyahu who delivers the address because he is the one who was invited.

Whatever faults anyone may find with the prime minister, even Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, the most aggressive and vociferous of his critics, would concede that as a public speaker, he’s top-notch, and speaks English as if it was his mother tongue. But Livni can’t resist being acerbic where Netanyahu is concerned and in an Israel Radio interview shortly after the announcement, she said it was not good enough for him to speechify. He had to actually take a decision

■ NOTWITHSTANDING GEO-POLITICAL and economic upheavals in the region and around the world, Israel’s incoming tourism figures are only two percent below those of the first nine months of 2010, which was a record year, Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov said on Monday evening at the annual toast to the Jewish New Year hosted by the Israel Hotel Association at the Tel Aviv Hilton. Misezhnikov said Israel is sending out the message that despite events in the region, is a safe and attractive tourism destination. He added that this message will be intensified at upcoming world tourism fairs and exhibitions. If he had a hat, said Misezhnikov, he would raise it to the hoteliers in admiration for what they are doing for Israel’s economy.

IHA President Ami Federmann also focused on pleasing occupancy rates in the hotels, which he said never failed to surprise given the convulsive nature of the region and the high prices in Israeli hotels. Tourism is a very sensitive barometer, he said, and has not been seriously affected by global and regional events. Yet despite the stability in incoming tourism and the profitability of the industry, it does not attract new investors, a phenomenon that Federmann said must be investigated and resolved.

IHA director-general Shmuel Tzurel welcomed diplomatic representatives from 28 countries: owners and general managers of hotels, airlines and car rental companies, travel agents, restaurant proprietors, MK Yoel Hasson and Tiberias Mayor Zohar Oved. He praised Misezhnikov for making an unprecedented budget available for tourism promotion and for his role in the cancellation of visa requirements for people coming to Israel from Russia and Ukraine, resulting in a huge increase of visitors from those countries.

There were new faces among the diplomats at the event, including those of China’s ambassador designate Gao Yanping and Philippines ambassador designate Generoso Calonge who had been scheduled to present their credentials to President Shimon Peres on September 7, but the ceremony had been canceled due to the death of the president’s brother. They and other ambassadors designate are waiting for it to be rescheduled.

■ DESPITE CLAIMS to the contrary by government ministers and representatives of the National Insurance Institute, there are starving people in Israel. An incredulous Peerli Shahar, who each year before Passover and Rosh Hashana conducts a program on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet to match people who want to be invited for a festive dinner with those who want to host them, heard again and again from people who distribute food to the needy that there are children who suffer from severe stomach cramps brought on by hunger. “But surely people have bread!” exclaimed Shahar increduolously.

Many wonderful Israelis all over the country who quickly responded to the program. Some religious families offered to put up as many as half a dozen strangers for the three-day holiday. A representative of an organization that cares for Holocaust survivors offered to transport them to and from any place to which they were invited, and stressed how important it was for them not be alone, but not to be treated as charity cases either. A clothing merchant called to offer dozens of new outfits to children and teenagers. Other callers offered cash donations to pay for food parcels.

■ THE VALUE of benefit performances by Israeli singers and musicians is inestimable. There’s hardly a charitable organization that hasn’t reaped the bounty of their generosity.

And it’s not just the up-and-coming celebs who perform gratis so that they will become better known to more people. It’s also the stars at the top of the pyramid.

Case in point is Yehoram Gaon, who last week sang on behalf of the Israel Cancer Association at a gala evening hosted by Yossi Maiman, who heads the Merhav Group and who in the past chaired the ICA’s doorknock campaign.

The crowd, which gathered in Maiman’s spacious garden in Herzliya Pituah, happily sang along with Gaon. Since he knew most of the people there, it almost seemed a family affair. Especially moving was his rendition of Jerusalem of Gold.

Among those in attendance was the singer’s nephew Moshe Gaon, along with Shula and Leon Recanati, MK Anastasia Michaeli, Batsheva Bublil, Tali and Meshulam Riklis, Bruno Landsberg, brothers Dan and Gad Propper, David Franklin, Ran Rahav, and many other well known personalities. Yehoram Gaon has a very special place in his heart for ICA, which for many years was presided over by his late brother Benny Gaon (the father of Moshe), who before becoming president had been chairman of the ICA.

Unfortunately, Benny Gaon, who did so much to help people with cancer, was a victim of it himself. ICA director general Miri Ziv in thanking donors for their generosity, reminded them that today’s research is tomorrow’s therapy. ICA vice chairman Leon Recanati presented Gaon with a plaque to add to the many that already adorn the walls of his home. Now that the Habima strike is over, Gaon can look forward to appearing with Gila Almagor in Friedrich Durrenmatt’s “The Visit of the Old Lady,” which is scheduled to be the curtain raiser for the revamped Habima theater at its opening on November 15.

■ AT THIS year’s Mexican Independence Day reception hosted at his residence by Mexican ambassador Federico Salas, Housing and Construction minister Ariel Atias acknowledged Mexico’s position in the Group of 20 and the fact that Mexico will host the 2010 G-20 with the participation not only of finance ministers of the 20 member countries but also of the heads of government, who will discuss financial markets and world economy.

Atias naturally hoped that Mexico would support Israel in the vote this week on the inclusion of Palestine as a member state of the United Nations, and was quite forthright in his expectations. He also spoke of areas of cooperation between Israel and Mexico such as water technology, tourism and archaeology. As always the décor of the back garden featured the traditional red, green and white colors of Mexico. There was a rich assortment of Mexican delicacies washed down with Corona beer. One of the highlights of the evening was a raffle, with prizes ranging from food baskets from Tres Pesos to a roundtrip Mexican Airlines ticket to Mexico. As always, the crowd sang along with the popular Mexican songs sung by the Mexican musicians.

■ COSTA RICA, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, whose Independence Days actually fall the day before Mexico’s, this year celebrated it a day after, and also changed their geographic location. Now that there are no longer any embassies in Jerusalem (with the exception of the Christian embassy), Costa Rica and El Salvador, which until a couple of years back made a point of hosting their Independence Day festivities in the capital, held a joint celebration at the Holon Design Museum. The Israeli government was represented by Shas party leader Eli Yishai.

Guests had to stand for the national anthems of the four host countries as well as to that of Israel. But that wasn’t the end of it. The next day, El Salvador ambassador Susana Hasenson hosted a fun day of Central American and Caribbean caricatures, art, music and stories at the Holon Mediatec, so for her it was quite an uplifting week.

■ REPRESENTATIVES OF the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, officers from the Israel Defense Forces, defense attaches from various embassies, members of the Indian Jewish community in Israel, members of the Haifa Historical Society and Deputy Mayor of Haifa Brig.

Gen. (Res) Hedva Almog joined Indian ambassador Navtej Sarna and other representatives of the Indian Embassy in the annual commemoration ceremony to honor the memories of Indian cavalry soldiers who laid down their lives in the courageous September 23, 1918 charge to liberate Haifa. These brave soldiers are traditionally commemorated by the Indian army at Haifa Day ceremonies far from where the action took place. But in Israel, Haifa Day is commemorated at the Indian cemetery, where this year Sarna sought to make the sacrifice of Indian soldiers better known through the release of a new book produced by the Indian embassy in cooperation with the Commonwealth Graves Commission: “Memorials of Indian Soldiers in Israel.” Some 900 Indian soldiers were laid to rest in cemeteries throughout the country. Sarna said the book would help to create awareness not only of these soldiers but also of many more Indian soldiers whose names are not in any cemetery in the region, but whose courage while fighting on this soil formed part of the mosaic in the relationship between India and Israel.

■ WHILE MANY eyes this week are focused on New York and how the UN will react to the Palestinian bid for statehood, New York broadcaster John Batchelor came to Jerusalem to “devote the new week to broadcasting about the complex security threat to the State of Israel and the 31-year peace along the Negev desert border with the Sinai Peninsula.”

Batchelor is the host of “The John Batchelor Show,” a two-hour national radio show covering politics, the economy, literature, culture, etc. During his week in Israel, Batchelor is broadcasting live for five nights and is being joined by transplanted American 77 WABC’s Aaron Klein. The show can be heard live on 77 WABC in New York and globally on www.wabcradio.com, with podcasts available at www.wabcradio.com/podcasts.

■ PEOPLE LIKE Shavei Israel founder and Chairman Michael Freund, who writes a regular column in The Jerusalem Post are not the only ones finding individuals and groups with Jewish roots and bringing them back into the fold. Others include Rabbi Moshe Pinchuk, head of the Jewish Heritage Center at Netanya Academic College, Prof. Michael Corinaldi, Head of NAC’s new International Institute for the Study of Secret Jews (Anusim) and Gloria Mound, the founder of Casa Shalom, who has devoted decades of her life to studying the history of anusim and tracing their descendants scattered throughout the world.

In recent years, after apologizing for the Inquisition and expulsion of 1492, Spain is interested in forging links with people whose lineage can be traced to the Jews of 15th century Spain. To this end, the Spanish embassy in Sofia, Bulgiaria, in cooperation with Cervantes Institute, joined forces with La Casa de Sefarad and the Bulgarian Jewish organization Shalom to organize a three-day global meeting of representatives of Sephardic communities from around the world, who met together in Sofia, long recognized as a city of coexistence where Christians, Jews and Muslims live in harmony.

Here in Israel, the event was preempted by NAC’s meeting with ambassadors and other diplomats from Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia, Uruguay, Panama, Guatemala, Honduras and Chile, which are host countries to communities of anusim. It was hoped that through the good offices of the diplomats, cultural bridges could be built between Israel and these communities.

Following introductory remarks by Pinchuk, Corinaldi, explained the background of anusim, the descendants of conversos – those Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism in Spain and Portugal.

Mound, who is a senior advisor to Corinaldi, related her experiences starting 37 years ago visiting the Balearic Islands, where she subsequently did ground-breaking research on the descendents of the secret Jews living there, and has even managed to prove the Jewish ancestry of specific anusim in order for them to be eligible to marry kohanim.


■ FEW MARKETING techniques are more successful than a walking advertisement. While Hadassah women always do a lot of shopping in Israel, the national presidents seem to do more, making a point of acquiring made-in- Israel jewelry and clothing. Newly-appointed president Marcie Natan, who with her innate sense of fashion and superb figure always looks as though she has just stepped out of the pages of Vogue. Although she lives in the heart of Manhattan, surrounded by some of the most stylish fashion stores in the Big Apple, she prefers to shop in Ramat Gan. Whenever she has a little down time from her Hadassah business on a trip to Israel, she goes shopping.

At the reception hosted last week by President Shimon Peres for the Hadassah National Board, she was wearing a gorgeous peplum suit and striking gold necklace and earrings, all made in Israel. When she receives compliments for her attire in the US, she loves to say that she bought her outfit in Israel. Once when visiting with Kadima MK Dalia Itzik, she fell in love with what Itzik was wearing. As Itzik is of a similar build, the two headed for the powder room and temporarily exchanged clothes.

Everyone told Natan that she looked great in Itzik’s gear, so a call was promptly put through to the designer, who had the garment ready for Natan on her subsequent visit

■ NO LESS a fixture on Israel’s social scene than her late husband Muhammad Bassiouni who was Egypt’s second and longest-serving ambassador to Israel and who died in Cairo on Sunday, Nagwa Bassiouni received several condolence messages this week from friends she had made in the International Women’s Club during the eighteen years in which she lived in Israel. While everyone knew that both of the Bassiounis were heavily engaged in espionage and suspected that Syrian-born Nagwa might also be spying for Syria, the two were nonetheless extremely popular because of the sense of joy and well-being they radiated. Bassiouni had a certain inner glow that was reflected in his face and Nagwa’s brilliant smile was her trademark. They both loved to party, and in addition to being entertaining guests, were excellent hosts.

greerfc@gmail.com

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger