Labor MK Nachman Shai displayed yet another talent last week when he was asked to cut the huge rectangular cake at the 102nd National Day reception of the Republic of China, more widely known as Taiwan.

Wielding a long knife, Shai made a clean cut down the center of the flag-frosted cake to the delight of photographers, but suddenly found himself surrounded by a throng of men who wanted to be in the picture.

Shai also inadvertently (or perhaps deliberately) upgraded the status of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv, by referring to it as an embassy. It does in fact operate like an embassy, but most countries that have full diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China do not want to spoil that relationship by officially recognizing Taiwan and establishing diplomatic ties.

This makes it difficult for Taiwan to become a member of various international forums, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Liang-jen Chang, the representative of the Republic of China who is referred to as ambassador by his staff and by Shai, asked his guests to sign a petition requesting that Taiwan be granted UNFCCC observer status.

It’s not certain that everyone heard him. Though the reception took place in a relatively small and intimate banquet hall in Tel Aviv’s Sheraton Hotel, the noise level of people talking was deafening – so much so that some of the Israelis who do business in Taiwan got angry and called for people to be quiet while their host was speaking.

Despite the absence of full diplomatic relations between Israel and Taiwan, the countries have thus far signed 19 bilateral agreements, covering cooperation on economy and trade, technology, agriculture, medicine, customs assistance and youth affairs, said Chang, adding that more agreements are in the pipeline. Chang was particularly appreciative of the visa waiver agreement between the two countries, which has been in force since August 2011 and has resulted in a significant upsurge of visits in both directions.

Like the Jewish state, Taiwan is dedicated to providing global humanitarian aid wherever it is needed, and would like to work with Israel in assisting people and countries which have suffered disasters that have had a dire effect on segments of the population.

Taiwanese cuisine is not what you get in Chinese restaurants in Israel, and Chang had sent someone from his office to guide the Sheraton chefs in the preparation of some of the culinary delights of Taiwan. Judging by the gusto with which the Chinese guests were consuming bowl after bowl of delicacies, the hotel chefs had succeeded in producing a taste of home. The fare was absolutely delicious, and Chang enjoyed watching his guests return to the buffets for second and third helpings of everything – a true instance of the path to people’s hearts being through their stomachs.

Israeli businesspeople chatting to each other said they liked doing business in Taiwan, not only because of the advanced and low-cost technology, but also because they found the people they were dealing with to be honest.

One of the Israelis brought along a Jordanian colleague, who was very interested in what was going on and wasted no time in networking with both Israelis and Taiwanese.

Although members of the Israel-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Association frequent Taiwanese events, government representatives do not – with the exception of Vered Swed, director of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women in the Prime Minister’s Office. A regular ex-officio government representative is retired diplomat Zvi Gabay, a former deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Ministry.

■ THE SUBJECT of the Israeli- Palestinian peace talks is almost invariably the core topic of discussion, other than hi-tech and scientific cooperation, when President Shimon Peres accepts the credentials of new ambassadors.

Although Peres did talk about the peace process with Ireland’s Eamonn McKee, the first of five new ambassadors who presented their credentials last Thursday, the discussion was mainly about Ireland’s peace process and not that of the Middle East.

After congratulating McKee on Ireland’s ability to overcome its 100 million euro deficit, Peres asked about Ireland’s relations with England.

“We’ve won political independence from England, but not emotional independence,” replied McKee, adding that the peace process has enabled the Irish to retrieve elements of their history that had been put aside, and to look more dispassionately upon varieties of heritage. He cited the fact that numerous Irish soldiers had fought in the British army, but had been ashamed for many years to admit to this.

In the new political relationship between Ireland and England, relations are “incredibly warm and friendly,” said McKee, and the Irish can now open a dialogue about the past. He acknowledged that there is still “unfinished business” in Northern Ireland, where tensions are still running high in a divided society. McKee categorized that situation as a work in progress, and said the Americans had provided enormous help in the effort to resolve disputes.

Peres explained that his prodding on the issue derived from his hope that one day “we’ll be in the same position.”

McKee, who was involved in peace negotiations in 1998, offered encouragement, saying that people who had refused to speak to each other then are now in government together.

The second new envoy, French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave, was almost beside himself with excitement, making no secret of the fact that one of his great ambitions in life had been to meet the legendary Peres. He admitted this was an emotional occasion for him: “In this room, there’s one happy person, and I’m that guy,” he said. “I wanted this job. I wanted this position. I wanted to come to this country.”

Paying Peres a supreme compliment, Maisonnave said: “You embody the most beautiful pages in the history of the relations between the State of Israel and France. You are someone we cherish in France. You are a great man for the French people.”

The upcoming visit next month by French President François Hollande received merely a passing mention, only because the ambassador was so enthralled with Peres that he temporarily found it difficult to focus on much else. It was Peres who mentioned the visit and its importance to Israel.

Paraguay’s Ambassador Max Haber Neumann is the first to serve in the post since Paraguay closed its embassy in Israel 12 years ago, giving as its reason economic hardship.

Paraguay’s new president, billionaire businessman Horacio Cartes, was helped to victory by American-born Israeli strategist Yechiel Leiter.

Leiter, who used to be a senior adviser to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, told Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin following Cartes’s inauguration in August that he would reopen the embassy in Israel – and he has kept his word.

In welcoming Neumann, Peres said, “You are a new ambassador, but not a new friend.” Indeed, Neumann served for 12 years as Israel’s honorary consul in Paraguay.

Peres recalled that Paraguay had opened its doors to Holocaust survivors after World War II, and Neumann reminded Peres that in November 1947, Paraguay had supported the UN vote on the partition of Palestine and officially recognized Israel in 1948. Paraguay had been the first Latin American country to sign the Mercosur Free Trade Agreement with Israel, said the ambassador, who hopes to increase the volume of trade between Paruguay and Israel. “I’m working for the benefit of both countries,” he said.

It was only after the fourth new envoy, Brazilian Ambassador Henrique da Silveira Sardinha Pinto, presented his credentials that there was any discussion on the Middle East peace process. It occurred when the ambassador asked Peres for his assessment, after Peres began reminiscing about his state visit to Brazil in 2009, when thenpresident Lula da Silva impressed upon him the need to meet the heads of Brazil’s Olympic Games Committee, who were preparing for the 2016 Olympics.

There were four men – two Jews and two Arabs – “so I felt at home,” said Peres, who was pleasantly surprised at the harmonious relations between the four. Pinto assured Peres that this was the norm. There is peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs, he declared proudly, saying, “This is an example that these relations are possible, and a demonstration of the possibility of peace in this land.”

Peres explained the key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian discussions, and said that although they are not simple to resolve, it is not impossible, in that the opportunities to do so exist.

Mongolia’s non-resident Ambassador Bulgaa Altangerelcame bearing an invitation from President Tsakhia Elbegdorj for Peres to pay an official visit. Peres, who is enamored with the idea that the horses of Genghis Khan galloped across the desert at a faster speed than the tanks of Erwin Rommel, said he would come if they would guarantee him a galloping horse.

Altangerel, who is also accredited in the US, is stationed in Washington and was in Israel last week for the first time. Peres recommended that he spend more time in Jerusalem than in Washington.

■ AMONG THE royals who have never been to Israel are members of the Royal Danish family. This lacuna will be remedied on October 30, when Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark will pay a lightning visit to Jerusalem to attend a gala concert by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, marking the 70th anniversary of the rescue of Denmark’s 7,000 Jews and their evacuation to Sweden.

The event was organized by Danes in Israel, the Royal Danish Embassy and Friends of Denmark in Israel.

The news that the crown prince will be coming to Israel proved that joy is far more beneficial to health than medicine. One of Israel’s best-known Danes, veteran journalist Richard Oestermann, 87, who was among the rescued Jews of Denmark, and who in recent times was seriously ill in the hospital and literally at death’s door, made a miraculous recovery once the visits by Crown Prince Frederik, Crown Princess Mary and Danish Education Minister Christine Antorini were confirmed.

Though barely able to breathe at one stage, Oestermann was busy on the phone, urging colleagues to cover what for him is a most important story.

Equally excited is Esther Herlitz, 92, who from 1966- 1971 served as Israel’s ambassador to Denmark, and who for more than quarter of a century has served as the chairwoman of the Friends of Denmark in Israel.

The concert at the Jerusalem Theater will also be attended by President Peres, who will deliver an address, as will the crown prince, who with the Australian-born crown princess will briefly interrupt a visit to Sydney.

They will be there to join in celebrating the 40th anniversary of the city’s famous opera house, which was designed by Denmark’s most famous architect, Jern Utzon.

Israel’s Danish community is ecstatic over the visit, though somewhat disappointed that the royals will be here for so short a period of time. But one never knows. The crown prince is an avid sportsman whose interests include marathon running, and perhaps he can be persuaded to run in next year’s Jerusalem Marathon, or the marathons in Tel Aviv or Safed. There is no shortage of marathons to fit in with his schedule.

■ YET ANOTHER case of the best laid plans going awry: For many years, first-, second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors from Piotrków Trybunalski, when annually commemorating the Nazi extermination of Piotrokov Jewry, held it as close as possible to the 10th of Heshvan, the date of the last of four transports from Piotrków to the Treblinka death camp.

Among the people on this fourth and last transport was the city’s chief rabbi, Moshe Chaim Lau. Two of his children, Naphtali, who became an Israeli journalist and diplomat, and Yisrael Meir, who was chief rabbi of Israel before returning to his former post as chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, survived. Each has spoken several times at the commemoration ceremonies. But when Rabbi David Lau, the son of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, was elected chief rabbi, the joy of Israelis with roots in Piotrków knew no bounds – because this more than anything symbolized the continuation of a dynasty that had gone on for generations, and was all but eradicated by the Nazis.

Rabbi David Lau, who visited Piotrków Trybunalski in 2009, had been scheduled to speak at this year’s commemoration ceremony. But unfortunately he was unable to keep his commitment, because as chief Ashkenazi rabbi, he had to attend the conclusion of the shiva mourning period for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

As moderator Avraham Yehieli observed, the Lau family is not short on rabbis, so the chief rabbi’s younger brother, Tzvi Yehuda, the rabbi of north Tel Aviv, stood in for him and delivered a stirring address based on the toughest test of Abraham the Patriarch. This was the sacrifice of Isaac, which was stopped at the last minute when Abraham somehow became aware of the birth of Rebecca and knew that together with Isaac, she represented the future of his family.

Incidentally, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Lau has a son called Moshe Chaim, who in all likelihood will also become a rabbi and together with his peer generation, will preserve the Piotrokov Jewish heritage.

■ WHILE SPECULATION over the future of Shas continues, several journalists in the Hebrew media came up with an interesting idea.

They suggested the leadership of the movement should pass into the hands of one of two women who have already proven their mettle – one being trailblazing educator Adina Bar-Shalom, the daughter of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and the other being her sister-in-law Yehudit Yosef, the wife of Moshe Yosef, the youngest of Ovadia Yosef’s 11 children.

Nine years ago, following the death of his mother Margalit Yosef, Moshe, along with Yehudit and their nine children, moved into Ovadia Yosef’s apartment to take care of him. This involved a lot more than maintaining his household and ensuring he ate the right food and his clothes were clean and pressed. Yehudit Yosef wielded a lot of behind-the-scenes influence, and both she and Bar-Shalom could be instrumental in upgrading the status of women in Shas, and letting them play equal roles to men in civic life.

Meanwhile, Yehudit Yosef has to focus on the wedding of her daughter Yael to Haim Attias, whose father is the Sephardi chief rabbi of Petah Tikva. The wedding was to have originally taken place last Thursday but was postponed due to the week of mourning. It had been hoped that Ovadia Yosef would recover from his illness so that he could perform the wedding ceremony. Now, in addition to deciding who would do the honors in his stead, Yehudit and Moshe Yosef also have to find a new venue for the banquet hall.

According to a Ma’ariv report, the company commissioned to cater the wedding went bankrupt, and the parents of numerous prospective brides and grooms who had been asked to pay a hefty deposit upfront were left high and dry with no caterer, no banquet hall and no chance of recovering their money. The Yosefs were among the victims.

■ AS HAS been previously mentioned in this column, the best way to learn who is reading it is to make a mistake.

It was because of a mistake that it was flattering to learn early last Wednesday that Myrna Bennett, the mother of Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, reads Grapevine. Last Wednesday, the column included an item that mentioned her son and her grandchildren. The eldest of Naftali Bennett’s children is called Yoni, and was erroneously referred to as Yossi.

Yoni was named for Yoni Netanyahu, whose book of letters was a source of inspiration to Myrna’s son.

■ INITIATIVE HAS its own reward. When boycotts began against Israeli goods produced in the territories, American immigrants Elisheva and Gedaliah Blum realized that just as there were misguided people who in encouraging and implementing boycotts, were harming the livelihood not only of Jews but of Palestinians employed by Jews, there must be more levelheaded people out there. These people would ignore boycott incitement if they were made aware of the merchandise available.

The Blums, who live with their four children in Eli in the Binyamin region, decided to take up the challenge and promote businesses in Judea and Samaria, in hopes of attracting interest from the unbiased. A little over four years after launching their project, and helping more than 2,000 business in Judea and Samaria by showcasing them on a website, they are now launching an international online boutique in English, with profits reinvested into the promotion of all the businesses listed.

In this way, if for instance someone from Alabama purchases a painting from an artist in Efrat, they are also helping a plumber from Ariel get more business. The Blums stress they are undertaking the initiative not only with the aim of aiding Israel’s economy, but also in order to explore a wealth of human interest stories, enabling people who are struggling to make a living with dignity.

■ QUITE A number of people who were heavily involved in Israel’s security in past years are moving in the direction of the peace camp, believing that only people-to-people diplomacy will eventually result in peace – because it is the people, not the politicians who eventually have to live side-by-side.

One such person is Ze’ev Raz, one of the pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in June 1981. Raz was a member of the Israeli team engaging in direct dialogue with Palestinians in Phase Two, which concluded on this past Sunday at the Bookworm on Maze Street, Tel Aviv. Phase Two will take place in Jerusalem on October 24-25 in the plaza of the King George Avenue branch of Hamashbir.

Joining Raz will be Orna Oshri, the chief graphic artist at Yediot Aharonot; Abie Moses, whose pregnant wife and 5-year-old son were killed in a terrorist attack; Dr.

Hassan Margi, head of the Arab media division of the Israel Communication Association; Meir Yehoshua, a religious settler from Kfar Etzion; and Israel Prize laureate Dr. Sapir Handelman.

Sessions on Thursday, October 24 will begin at 2:30 p.m.

and continue into the night, and on Friday from 10 a.m.

until an hour before Shabbat, after which participants will march to the Prime Minister’s Residence to make him aware of the areas on which they have reached agreement. The public is invited to join the discussions and the march.

greerfc@gmail.com

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