There are no direct flights from Israel to Singapore, and most people who want to visit the island paradise from Ben-Gurion Airport have various options, via Turkey and Hong Kong; Thailand; Seoul; or through various European capitals. In every case, they have to change planes for connecting flights, taking either two or three flights to get there.

There is now an additional option – to fly via Tashkent on Uzbekistan Airways, which claims to be the largest and most modern and efficient airline in Central Asia.

Uzbekistan Airways was one of 300-plus exhibitors at the 20th International Mediterranean Tourism Market, hosted by the Tourism Ministry with the participation of more than 40 countries, in addition to Israel. They were promoting not only destinations but sea cruises, airlines, hotels, bus tours, car rentals, educational and religious institutions, museums, tour operators, convention organizers, cuisine and more.

If anyone ever doubted the importance of the laptop into today’s world, a trade fair is an instant way to be convinced.

There were laptops on every counter, to get instant data or to show visuals of a country’s unique qualities.

Almost every booth included foodstuffs such as wine, candies and cookies, but the Hafetz Haim kibbutz, which was promoting its new hotel, was handing out pickled cucumbers and noodle kugel.

During the two-day event, there were also promotional programs, some by invitation only and some open to everyone.

Souvenirs were of course distributed at all these events, as well as at some of the booths, and visitors could be seen all over the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds clutching nylon, cardboard and fabric bags advertising various countries and companies.

The programs were hosted by different countries, namely the Dominican Republic, Spain, the Czech Republic, China, Poland, Japan, Morocco, Ecuador, Albania, Romania, the Philippines, Lithuania, Nepal, Greece, Russia, Croatia and Uzbekistan; Poland, Spain, Lithuania and Greece pushed their heritage tours in addition to other attractions. Although Uzbekistan Airlines – which was the last to have a special presentation – did not make an advance announcement about anything to do with Jewish heritage tours, the Dolores Travel Agency, which also participated in the Uzbekistan event, did note there will be special Jewish group tours in June, August and November.

There were significant discrepancies between the figures given for the Jewish population of Uzbekistan by the Dolores representative, Uzbekistan Ambassador Oybek Eshonov, and the website of the World Jewish Congress, but there was consensus that there are still active synagogues in Bukhara and Samarkand, and that Jews have lived in Central Asia for some 2,500 years.

Tourism Ministry director-general Amir Halevi said he had not yet visited Uzbekistan, but was looking forward to going there in the near future. Indeed, the screening of a brief travelogue depicting the splendor of the breathtaking architecture, the marvelously detailed mosaics, the exquisite gold embroideries, the skillful carpet weaving and the contrast of centuries-old buildings with the ultra-modernity of Tashkent, indicated that Halevi – and any other tourist for that matter – will have much to see and enjoy.

Uzbekistan, according to Eshonov, is the friendliest Muslim country to Israel. Aside from its scenic beauty, it has a rich culture and philosophy, he said. Soon after gaining independence in 1991, Uzbekistan created its own national air carrier, and the first foreign destination in 1992 was Israel, starting with one flight a week.

Now, it has four flights a week, said Timor Karimov, the company’s regional manager.

Probably the best-known of the Jewish communities of Uzbekistan is that of Bukhara, many of whose members came to Israel, while the bulk of those who emigrated went to the US. Bukhara is wellknown for its fine cuisine, and some of the professional Bukharan Jewish cooks who live in Israel were recruited to prepare regional delicacies for the promotional event. The Bukharan pilaf, which in their parlance is called pilav, was certainly worth a second helping.

■ NEWSPAPERS AND news-oriented web publications have been saturated with advertisements for Valentine’s Day – which is today, February 14. Regarded as an unofficial romantic festival, it is celebrated in many countries around the world, including Israel. Surprisingly, the very rabbis who lead violent demonstrations against compulsory military or national service for all sectors of the population, regardless of religious affiliation or ethnic identity, are silent when it comes to Valentine’s Day.

For the record: the proper name of Valentine’s Day is the Feast of St. Valentine. It is celebrated in churches around the world, in memory of a martyr of the Roman era who was called Valentine. In fact, there was more than one martyr of that name. Aside from being a specifically Christian festival that grew out of what was initially a pagan festival, Valentine’s Day has some dark historical connotations for Jews. In 1349, the massacre of the Jews of Strasbourg, in which approximately 1,000 men, women and children were burned to death, took place on February 14.

On the brighter side, the Knesset convened for the first time on February 14, 1949, so today marks its 65th anniversary.

Because this is a leap year and February 14 coincides with the 15th of Adar – which is also known as Purim Katan (the minor Purim, as distinct from the proper festival celebrated in Adar Bet) – this may be an excuse for a minor celebration.

For those who are not religiously observant, tonight is also the gala of the Tel Aviv Guitar Week Festival, at the Felicja Blumental Music Center in Tel Aviv.

■ AFTER INADVERTENTLY causing a storm in the Knesset on Tuesday by posing a questing that was largely interpreted as a judgmental statement by MKs with selective hearing, Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, called on President Shimon Peres and assured him he was speaking on behalf of all the member countries of the EU. He said the EU is committed to Israel’s security and is investing heavily in improving the daily lives of people in the region, to increase their support for peace while backing US Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace efforts.

Peres, who impresses upon every visiting foreign dignitary the importance of science and technology in paving the path to peace, found a willing ear in Schulz, who said it was only while preparing for his visit to Israel that he realized the extent of scientific and technological cooperation between the EU and Israel – something he declared should be expanded and made better-known.

■ MOST MAJOR organizations and institutions in Israel have ongoing connections with the diplomatic community, and unless ambassadors and their deputies choose to decline or ignore invitations, by the time they conclude their respective tours of duty in Israel, they have an extremely well-rounded knowledge of the Jewish state.

Among the organizations that cultivate the diplomatic community is the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, which has both direct and indirect relations with diplomatic representatives, in its own right and through the many binational chambers of commerce, which help host visiting trade delegations and overseas dignitaries representing various branches of commerce and industry.

Each year, the federation, headed by former MK Uriel Lynn, hosts a diplomatic gathering attended by ambassadors and commercial attaches, as well as prominent personalities from Israel’s business community. Present at this year’s gathering, held last week, was Labor MK Erel Margalit, who was a leading venture capitalist before opting for a career in politics.

Lynn emphasized the important role of the diplomatic community in strengthening economic ties between their countries and Israel. Margalit introduced a political note when he said that potential investors should not be concerned with the price of peace, but with the economic opportunities that will flourish once peace is attained.

greerfc@gmail.com

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