Flexibility has become the hallmark of “national day” celebrations, with many embassies this year rescheduling festivities either for the sake of convenience or because their national days clashed with the Sabbath or with Jewish holidays. This was especially the case with regard to national days that fell during Succot. Among the countries affected were the People’s Republic of China, Cyprus and Nigeria, whose national day is October 1, Germany and Korea, whose national day is October 3 and Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China ,which has two national days, one on October 10 commemorating the Wuchang Uprising of 1911, and the other January 1, the date on which the Republic of China was established in 1912.

For the second consecutive year, German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis hosted the Day of German Unity at the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv instead of at his residence in Herzliya Pituah. Last year he had an excuse because the residence was being renovated, but he may have discovered that it was a lot more convenient for his guests to come to Tel Aviv. He moved his function both geographically and chronologically, holding it on October 10.

Korean Ambassador Ilsoo Kim last night combined his country’s national day reception at his residence in Rishpon with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea and the State of Israel. Nigerian Ambassador David Oladipo Obasa combined his country’s national day with the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the resumption of diplomatic relations between his country and Israel at a festive gathering last Sunday at his residence in Kfar Shmaryahu, and Dimitris Hatziargyrou, the ambassador of Cyprus, is hosting his national day reception this evening. But the celebrations creating the most interest are those of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China. Whether by accident or by design, PRC Ambassador Gao Yanping and ROC Ambassador Liang-Jen Chang who are politically at odds with each other, both opted to celebrate tomorrow – October 18.

Curiously enough, they chose Tel Aviv hotels that are next door to each other, to some extent accommodating those of their guests who are invited to both events by having them an hour apart. Some people might interpret this as a reconciliatory gesture.

Others might regard it as mere coincidence.

The PRC event will include a concert by The Forbidden City Chamber Orchestra. The ROC event will include a jazz performance.

The ROC’s representative in Israel operates out of The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv because, although Taiwan is crawling with Israeli hi-tech people, Israel does not have formal diplomatic ties with the ROC – as is the case with most countries that have formal diplomatic relations with the PRC. Therefore, although the ROC representative has the title of ambassador, the office he heads is not an embassy. The essential difference is that the Foreign Ministry will be represented at the PRC reception but not at the ROC reception.

■ PRESENTATION OF diplomatic credentials does not rouse much media interest unless the diplomat in question is a new American ambassador, a new Russian ambassador, a new Egyptian ambassador or a new Jordanian ambassador. The latter two, Atef Mohamed Salem Saed Alahl and Walid Khalid Abdullah Obeidat will be the last of five new envoys who are scheduled to present their credentials to President Shimon Peres this morning. The others are Jean Baptiste Gomis, the ambassador of the Ivory Coast, Francesco Maria Talo, the ambassador of Italy, and Simon Pullicino, the ambassador of Malta.

■ WHATEVER DIFFERENCES may exist between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barak Obama, one thing they have in common – aside from the fact that both are standing for reelection – is that both are left-handed. So was former US President Bill Clinton and so is British Prime Minister David Cameron.

There are quite a few other countries with left-handed leaders, but not necessarily with left-wing inclinations. In fact in some cases, as with Netanyahu, it’s the exact opposite.

Perhaps it’s meant to indicate balance.

■ IT’S NOT exactly correct to say that Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was killing two birds with one stone when he visited the Poriya Medical Center in Tiberias toward the end of last week to take part in the dedication ceremony of the new Leah Kabakoff Maternity and Neonatal Center, to which his political party, Yisrael Beytenu, had contributed NIS 25 million. Following the ceremony, Ayalon went to visit fellow MK and party member Orly Levy-Abekasis, who two days earlier had given birth to her fourth child. It would be interesting to do an exit poll at Poriya on election day to estimate how many staff members and new mothers would vote Yisrael Beytenu. After all, NIS 25 million is not to be sneezed at.

■ HOW THINGS can change in 520 years! Remember the Spanish Inquisition of 1492, when they expelled or executed Jews or forced them to convert to Christianity? On the 500th anniversary of the Inquisition there was a much-hyped reconciliation between Spain and the Jewish people, or more accurately those of the Jewish people who returned to their spiritual and ancestral homeland, Israel. After President Chaim Herzog went to Madrid in 1992 for an historic meeting of reconciliation with King Juan Carlos, Spain temporarily became enamored with Israel, but surveys taken in 2010 by the Observatory of Anti-Semitism in Spain and the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain showed it to be the most anti-Semitic country in Europe.

Spanish Ambassador Fernando Carderera would have us believe otherwise.

At the opening this week of the international conference on the Struggle for Identity of the Secret Jews of the Balearic Islands of Spain, he spoke warmly of the excellent relations that exist between Spain and Israel and Spain and the Jewish people. While acknowledging that the secret Jews suffered discrimination up to the 1960s, he said that today they are well-integrated and accepted in Spanish society.

The conference was attended by numerous people from around the world who can trace their ancestry to the Jews expelled from Spain or to those who practiced their faith in secret. Also present was David Hatchwell, president of the Jewish community of Madrid. Among religious leaders in attendance was Rabbi Shalom Bahbout, the spiritual mentor of the Jewish community of Naples, Italy.

■ ANY KIND of controversy involving public figures or former public figures sparks a series of associations related to the person in question.

Thus the request submitted to President Shimon Peres by Gila Katsav for a pardon for her husband, former president Moshe Katsav, who was convicted of sexual offences, immediately brings to mind the case of Margalit Har-Shefi, who was convicted for not preventing Yigal Amir from going ahead with his plan to assassinate prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Katsav, it appears from his request, is having a hard time in prison because fellow convicts who had appealed to him for reduction of sentence and whose requests had been denied are now making his life miserable.

Convicted murderer Ami Popper was, until his transfer, the main cause of concern. Popper, who in 1990 was given a life sentence for killing seven people after he opened fire on a group of Palestinian workers waiting at a bus stop, had appealed to Katsav for a pardon which was not forthcoming. Over the years Popper’s influence among other prisoners has grown, and so when Katsav underwent a severe change of status, Popper decided to get even.

But Katsav has also suffered for a pardon that he did issue. Although he had initially decided not to commute Har-Shefi’s sentence on the grounds that he would not be lenient with anyone connected with the assassination, he eventually cut short her sentence from nine to six months after relentless pressure from right-wing groups and individuals. As a result he was castigated by left-wing groups and individuals who were afraid that the commuting of her sentence would eventually lead to Amir’s release. At the time, Katsav noted that Har- Shefi had said that if she could have prevented the murder, she would have. But it was not until 2007 that Ami Ayalon, then an MK and before that the head of the Shabak, Israel’s Security Agency, revealed to a group of Labor Party supporters in Ashkelon that Har-Shefi had been unaware of Amir’s intentions. Last year there was a failed attempt to have her conviction struck off the record.

■ BRITISH AMBASSADOR Matthew Gould is experiencing larger chunks of Israeli life than do most Israeli citizens. Only a few weeks after leading a British Embassy team in the 59th Sea of Galilee Swim, he moonlighted on an ambucycle through Tel Aviv with a United Hatzalah first responder team headed by United Hatzalah founder Eli Beer so that he could learn first-hand how organization responds to emergencies. The ambucycles travel faster than an ambulance and can also maneuver narrow streets and hilly areas with much greater ease than an ambulance.

United Hatzalah works in close cooperation with Magen David Adom, and its paramedics have frequently tended to emergency situations together with those of MDA. But the ambucycles on which they travel would not be available without the goodwill of United Hatzalah supporters in Israel and abroad. A case in point was the donation of additions to the fleet during the intermediate days of Succot.

Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein and Bob and Amy Book, members of International Board of United Hatzalah, were vacationing at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and hosted a dinner for some 100 guests, including Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, in the hotel’s beautifully decorated succa. An impressive lineup of new ambucycles was on display. Beer, who had gone to the dinner expecting to enjoy a good meal and to listen to some speeches lauding his organization, did not expect any more than the ambucycles that had already been pledged. After several speeches endorsing United Hatzalah and evaluating the organization’s achievements over the last year, Dr. David Goldfarb from Tel Aviv took the microphone and said, “Dear Guests: Enough heard. Now it is our turn to act. I am donating three ambucycles to United Hatzalah.”

Goldfarb’s initiative and challenge did not fall on deaf ears. An additional 13 ambucycles were donated, raising the total to 25 new vehicles during one evening. Somehow an ambucycle has a lot of appeal for potential donors – perhaps because they can actually see and touch the finished product before they contribute and because they are aware of the importance of an ambucycle in enabling the fastest response to an emergency life-saving situation.

■ IT IS impossible to estimate how many tens of thousands of lives have been saved in the hundred year history of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which has raised and provided funds for Hadassah medical centers and educational facilities in Israel. As part of its centenary celebrations, Hadassah is holding its national convention in Israel, during which it is officially inaugurating the impressive Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower, which is the most modern medical facility in Israel.

The coming together of so many Hadassah members has provided an opportunity for other Hadassah dedications, such as The Albert and Ethel Herzstein Hadassah Heritage Center at Hadassah University Medical Center, Ein Kerem, which was inaugurated on Saturday night by Hadassah’s national president Marcie Natan and past presidents Bonnie Lipton, Marlene Post and Nancy Falchuk who collectively cut the ribbon.

The 120-square-meter Heritage Center is an interactive museum which brings to life the history of Hadassah.

Attending the ceremony were 31 of the 34 regional and big chapter presidents whose regions comprise the 330,000 members of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, and representatives from the Herzsteins’ hometown of Houston. Lipton, who chairs the Heritage Center, said that working in the building was beyond fulfilling.

She anticipated that it would grow to reflect Hadassah’s changing history. Audrey Shimron, executive director of Hadassah’s Offices in Israel, who had presented the idea to Hadassah’s national board a year and a half earlier, was thrilled with what Jerusalem architect David Shapira had done together with a group of dedicated, educated volunteers in Israel and the US who had undertaken the task of collecting stories, photographs, videos, newspaper clippings and artifacts.

Among the many exhibits is the personal diary of Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold.

There is also a movie of Hadassah’s history and accomplishments. Aside from paying tribute to an organization that has done so much for Israel, the Heritage Center provides yet another interesting tourist attraction for the capital and an opportunity for relatives of patients to focus on something positive while loved ones are undergoing surgery or resting. The Heritage Center has not yet been completed, but will open up to the public over the next year.

■ FOLLOWING ON the success of Afimall City, the largest shopping mall project in Moscow, Afi Development, which is a subsidiary of Africa Israel, whose chairman is international business tycoon Lev Leviev, received a permit from the Moscow Municipality to build an even bigger and more impressive complex, the Tverskaya Plaza, a development project that will combine commercial, residential, office, entertainment and hotel facilities. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, who is most appreciative of what Leviev is doing to enhance his city, came with senior members of his staff to take a look at how the project is developing and was given the grand tour by Leviev, his daughter Tzvia Leviev-Elizarov, marketing and asset management director of AFI Development, and AFI Development CEO Mark Groisman. Afimall has its own metro station and Tverskaya Plaza will have even greater access via three metro stations currently under construction.

■ LED BY their President, Ziona Primor, some 30 members of the International Women’s Club visited Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People on the campus of Tel Aviv University. The group was particularly interested in the exhibition “Operation Finale,” documenting the capture of Adolf Eichmann, which will remain on view until the end of the month. They were briefed by curators Avner A., a member of the Mossad, and Irena Gordon. Ziona Primor is the wife of Avi Primor, the president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations and director of the Trilateral Center For European Studies at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, who is a veteran of Israel’s diplomatic corps and whose last and extremely successful post was as Israel’s ambassador to Germany. Before their marriage, Ziona Primor was a Gottex house model.

Among the visiting IWC members was Janice Gillerman, the wife of Dan Gillerman, a former Israel ambassador to the United Nations, who was also seen in Jerusalem this week with her husband at the conferment ceremony in which Maestro Zubin Mehta received the Presidential Medal of Distinction from President Shimon Peres.

■ ESRA, THE English-Speaking Residents Association, which was founded by Zimbabwe- born and educated Merle Guttmann, who is this year celebrating the 50th anniversary of her aliya, and is currently chaired by British-born Brenda Katten, who has been living in Israel since 1998, has a remarkable history of volunteerism. This is not surprising, as both Guttmann and Katten have been engaged in volunteerism of one kind or another for most of their lives In 1992, ESRA and Guttmann, in recognition of their contribution to immigrant absorption, received the President’s Award for Volunteering from then-president Chaim Herzog.

Of the immigrants that ESRA has helped, the organization’s greatest and most constant effort has been directed toward immigrants from Ethiopia. ESRA supports numerous projects involving the Ethiopian community.

Much of this support is hands-on and also extends to youngsters born in Israel to Ethiopian immigrant parents. Some of these youngsters – girls ages nine to 12 who are members of a dance group – will be performing for President Shimon Peres at the end of this month. They come from Netanya, which is home to some 15,000 Ethiopians, and where ESRA sponsors various projects for children, youth and adults.

The dance project led by professional dancer Almaz Getahun, who is a local success story and a great role model, giving tremendous confidence to the young dancers according to Katten.

One of ESRA’s most exciting projects in these specific neighborhoods, she adds, is “Students Build a Neighborhood,” whereby students who are seeking financial support for their studies at university are provided with accommodation in as well as a stipend in exchange for mentoring and tutoring schoolchildren in mathematics, languages and general studies some three times a week In this way, ESRA is making a double contribution to education by funding the university students and making sure that Ethiopian schoolchildren get whatever tutoring they may need.

Katten is bothered by the fact that while ESRA operates very successfully on the coastal plain and beyond, it somehow never hit off in Jerusalem, despite the fact that Jerusalem has a very large population of native English-speakers. She is in the process of making yet another attempt to launch an ESRA branch in Jerusalem. For the record, ESRA is not a women’s organization and part of its success can be attributed to the fact that husbands and wives work together on projects. ESRA also has numerous social and cultural outlets.

■ HE WHO saves a single soul is as one who saved a whole world, goes the old Talmudic saying. Indeed, every human being is not only a world unto himself or herself, but also an extension of the worlds of their families, friends and acquaintances. Each and every human being represents the very essence of not judging a book by its cover.

Some of the most ordinary-looking or seemingly uneducated people often have the most fascinating tales to tell about their lives.

Those members of Israel’s Ethiopian population who walked across the Sudan to reach the Promised Land have the most riveting and sometimes spine-chilling tales to tell.

Prisoners of Zion of the former Soviet Union can fill volumes with the stories of their escapades. Descendants of the families of the first, second and third aliyot have countless stories about clearing swamps, fighting off Arab marauders, battling disease, building kibbutzim and moshavim, opening the first university, etc. Every person has a story, even if he doesn’t know how to tell it.

That’s where Jerusalem’s Ben-Zvi Institute comes into the picture. Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa of the Jerusalem-based Ben-Zvi Institute is coordinating a nationwide project called “Israel Revealed.” The project, initiated by the Prime Minister’s Office, is designed to pay tribute to the pioneers of various Israeli towns and cities – particularly development towns. Parts of the project are already underway, and an exhibition that was mounted in Kiryat Shmona paved the way for future exhibitions to be held in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Rosh Ha’ayin, Sderot, Jerusalem and Rehovot, among other places.

The project is designed to forge stronger ties between all sectors of Israeli society, including minorities. Organizers of the project say that everyone living in Israel has directly or indirectly contributed to the nation’s development and that in every family there are photo albums, documents and souvenirs which add to history’s mosaic of community and family life. It is important for the generations that have grown up in relatively well-developed areas to know how all this grew from almost nothing, as well as something about the people whose dreams, courage, willpower and stamina brought about the country that we live in today. For details of how to participate in the project, check out its website at www.israelalbum.org.il

greerfc@gmail.com

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