‘What an amazing demonstration of faith. It’s unbelievably moving,” marveled Levana Zamir, president of the International Association of Jews from Egypt. She was speaking of the spectacular musical celebration at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center, part of the annual Feast of Tabernacles sponsored by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem headed by executive director Dr. Jürgen Bühler.

The joyful exuberance with which the audience joined in with the extraordinarily talented singers on stage, singing rousing hymns in the most stirring evangelical fashion, was a tribute to the influence of hundreds of evangelical preachers around the world who have successfully conveyed their message.

One of them, the comic but charismatic Angus Buchan, founder of Shalom Ministries in Natal, South Africa, who says he prays for all sinners, had the laughing 2,500-member audience virtually eating out of his hand.

Keynote Jewish speaker for the evening was World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, who surprised some of his coreligionists in the audience with a brand of passion that was both inspired and inspiring, and could best be described as Jewish evangelism.

“I cannot think of a more important place than to be here, right now in this room with you,” said Lauder, as cheers, applause, whistles and the sound of a shofar penetrated the air.

He said a wise rabbi had once told him that Jews are good at many things, but not saying ‘thank you.’ Lauder declared that in the name of the Jewish people, he had come to say thank you to all those committed to decency, people who had stood up for morality, God and the Jewish people and who were now standing in what he called “the undivided capital of the State of Israel.”

Lauder asked how anyone could explain “the anger and hate heaped on Israel,” all the UN resolutions against Israel, the long silence on Syria and the even longer silence on Iran. The WJC president pledged he would not be silent about the burning of Christian churches by fundamentalists throughout the Middle East, nor about Christian Arabs who are murdered only because of their religion. Likewise, he would not keep quiet about the fact that 450,000 Christians were driven out of Syria over the past year, nor about the terrorization of the Christian population of Lebanon and the desecration of their holy sites. Lauder also noted the significant decrease in the Christian population of Bethlehem.

Former tourism minister Rabbi Benny Elon – who is today chairman of the Christian Allies Foundation, which brought pro-Israel parliamentarians from different countries to Israel this week – called each of them to the stage to thunderous ovations. Referring to the coalition of hatred against Israel that has been established by Israel’s enemies, Elon said: “It is time to establish a coalition of love, because unity is the key.”

Earlier in the evening, Bühler, who hosted a cocktail reception for the visiting parliamentarians and other guests, called on Josh Reinstein, director of the Christian Allies Caucus, to say a few words.

Reinstein repeated something that Likud MK Gila Gamliel had said to the visiting parliamentarians earlier in the day: “It’s time for you to be like the Christian Embassy, and to move your embassies to Jerusalem.”

■ THOSE REPORTERS in the Hebrew media who are quick to inform taxpayers of the seemingly untoward expenses the prime minister incurs during his trips abroad will have to find something else to write about when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu travels to New York at the end of the month to address the UN General Assembly.

According to a report in Israel HaYom, when the Prime Minister’s Office called for tenders for the trip from various airline companies, El Al, contrary to previous practice, decided to provide a sleeping cabin at no additional charge. In the past, it had charged $10,000 for such an arrangement.

The report did not go into the reasons for this sudden fiscal generosity, but one doesn’t have to be a genius to work it out. Both Netanyahu and El Al were the recipients of bad publicity with regard to catering to the prime minister’s comforts.

Before it was privatized, El Al was known as the national carrier, and in the eyes of many people – both Israelis and non-Israelis – it is still considered the national carrier, and as such should be the airline of choice for the president, prime minister and all government ministers whenever possible.

Meanwhile, a committee has been appointed to look into the possibility of a private plane such as America’s Air Force One, to transport the president and the prime minister on their travels abroad. If such a plane is purchased, it will reduce overall traveling costs for accompanying staff, security personnel, and business, academic and other delegations, and will enable more media representatives to accompany dignitaries abroad, as fares will be considerably less than those charged on commercial flights.

■ AWARE THAT Israelis tend to take advantage of the holiday season, Mexican Ambassador Federico Salas was pleasantly surprised when so many invitees filled the garden of his residence and joined him in celebrating Mexico’s 203rd anniversary of independence. “I expected less people to come,” he told Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom, who was there as the representative of the government.

In welcoming the guests, who received souvenirs such as colorful Mexican bandanas and tiny tequila cups strung on ribbons, Salas decided to bypass the traditional subjects of an ambassadorial address and refrained from speaking about Mexico’s six-decade relationship with Israel, the levels of bilateral cooperation and the volume of trade. Instead, he opted to focus on this year’s Guadalajara International Book Fair, which is the largest in the Spanish-speaking world, with an anticipated participation of 700,000 visitors. For only the second time in its history, the fair will host a delegation of writers from a non-Spanish speaking country – which happens to be Israel. Moreover, the Israeli pavilion at the fair will be launched by President Shimon Peres, who among other things is a writer of poetry and non-fiction.

As this year’s guest nation of honor, Israel will send a delegation comprising not only writers, but academics, musicians and singers.

There will be exhibitions of contemporary Israeli art and historic artifacts; representatives of 10 Israeli publishing companies along with 36 writers, all of whom have had their works translated into Spanish, are also expected to attend.

Israel’s most widely read author, Amos Oz, who has had his works translated into numerous languages, including Spanish, has been invited, but it is not yet certain whether he will attend.

Among the authors who will be flying to Mexico are Aharon Appelfeld; David Grossman; Etgar Keret, who was also there last year; Savion Liebrecht; Eshkol Nevo; Galia Oz; Meir Shalev; Zeruya Shalev; and Boris Zaidman. Scriptwriter and Haaretz columnist Sayed Kashua will also be there, as will poets Shimon Adaf, Hamutal Bar-Yosef and Agi Mishol, along with one of Israel’s most respected playwrights, Joshua Sobol.

Displays in the Israeli pavilion will include facsimiles of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Albert Einstein’s manuscripts. The exhibition, which coincides with Peres’s state visit to Mexico, will be open from November 30 to December 8.

“The People of the Book will be the stars of the book fair,” quipped Salas. He added that the visit by Peres will strengthen the relationship between Israel and Mexico, particularly since he will also be accompanied by a business delegation and hopefully by one or more government ministers.

Shalom referred briefly to Mexico’s economic miracle, calling it a paradigm for the way to manage a free country. The volume of trade between Israel and Mexico has been rising annually since the signing of a Free Trade Agreement in 2000, he noted.

Shalom also said he was pleased that Peres will be meeting Mexico’s newly elected President, Enrique Pena Nieto. He recalled his own visit to Mexico when he was foreign minister, saying relations between the two nations are constantly improving, “and the visit to Mexico by President Peres will be the peak.”

■ FRANCE’S NEW Ambassador to Israel Patrick Maisonnave, who via his embassy’s website wished the local French-speaking community a happy new year, has not yet presented his credentials. However, he has already been hit by a diplomatic incident that may result in the expulsion from Israel of French diplomat Marion Fesneau-Castaing, a cultural attaché in the French Consulate in Jerusalem who punched a Border Police officer in the face. The incident occurred last Friday, when Fesneau-Castaing and several other European diplomats tried to assist Palestinians in putting up tents in the village of Khirbet Makhoul, following demolition by Israeli authorities of illegally built homes. According to a video taken of the incident, Fesneau-Castaing acted in a most undiplomatic and provocative fashion, going beyond the bounds of diplomatic immunity.

However this pans out, it is unlikely to affect the projected visit by French President Francois Hollande, who is due to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority on November 18 and 19.

■ IN HONOR of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nobel Prize laureate Menachem Begin, the first of Israel’s prime ministers to sign a peace treaty with a previously hostile Arab state, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund and Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center invited the public last Friday to the Aliza and Menachem Begin Park in the Judean Hills, for a day of excursions and a wide range of leisure events. There were various exploratory outings – on foot, bicycle or ATV – on a segment of the Israel National Trail and other trails, with opportunities to learn more about the fascinating life story of Begin in special interactive ways. Afterward, the hikers had the opportunity to meet with Galia Ron-Feder Amit, author of a book on Begin, who shared some memories of the prime minister which she said profoundly influenced her life.

The day included several orations, performances and communal singing. Among those attending were KKL-JNF world chairman Efi Stenzler and Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, as well as representatives of the two organizations, which were responsible for the proceedings. Shamir voiced appreciation to the KKL-JNF for its splendid contribution to the greening of Israel.

■ IT’S NOT your everyday scene to see three men in long tallitot playing guitars and a hand drum, while synagogue congregants sway to the music, holding their etrogim and lulavim aloft. That’s what happened at Jerusalem’s Moreshet Avraham Synagogue on Hol Hamoed Succot, during the chanting of Hallel. What occasioned this departure from the norm was the fact that it was also the bar mitzva of Matan Brinn, the youngest of the four offspring of David and Shelley Brinn.

David, who was playing the drum, is the managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, and among the veterans who attended the celebration were people who had been at Matan’s brit mila, when his parents ushered him into the faith and recited the blessing in which he was given his name. That name, Matan, his father explained, is entirely appropriate – because his whole family regards him as a gift.

Matan, according to both his parents, is a child who was born with a sunny disposition, an insatiable curiosity, a highly developed sense of humor and a strong empathy for others. Over the years, he has acquired an extraordinary breadth of knowledge and is always up-todate on what is happening in the world in any number of fields. “I can’t wait to find out what he comes up with next,” said his father. Matan is also an accomplished breakdancer, as was seen in the brief video about him.

In his speech, Matan made special mention of the presence of his uncle, Steve Brinn, who had come to Israel from Maine for the second time in less than six months, having previously come for the wedding of the bar mitzva boy’s sister, Adina. Matan also thanked his parents for waking him up every morning, and didn’t forget to thank his bar mitzva teacher for making sure all went smoothly on the big day.

His first duty as an adult in the Jewish tradition was to bless the congregation. Like his father, he is a member of the priestly tribe, and as a cohen, he will for the rest of his life have the duty and privilege of blessing the congregation.

■ IN INTRODUCING Yehuda Avner, author of the bestselling book The Prime Ministers, which has been made into both documentary and feature films, Rose Leibler– one of the founders of Emunah B’Simcha, which hosted the last of three screenings of the documentary at the Begin Heritage Center – spoke of Avner’s background.

He was a fighter in the War of Independence, a founder of Kibbutz Lavi, a diplomat and a speechwriter, but his most important achievement, she said, was not included in the book. This was Avner and his wife Mimi’s talent for matchmaking. Seventeen years earlier, she said, the Avners had introduced her to a wonderful man who became her husband.

Avner, when taking the podium, begged the indulgence of the audience, and said that after speaking at premieres in Hollywood, Broadway and Jerusalem, and having to sit through the films every time, all he wanted to do was go home.

All three screenings in Jerusalem were to a full house. Part one covers the periods of Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, and part two, which will be shown in the spring, deals with Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin. Avner himself features prominently in the film, a factor that makes it much more meaningful to people who have read the book or who have attended any of his lectures.

■ EMUNAH B’SIMCHA, which operates under the auspices of Emunah Jerusalem, provides what it calls home starter kits for economically distressed newlyweds who are creating a new household.

The kits, purchased for NIS 1,500 from major retail outlets, are acquired with significant discounts, and include towels, bed linens, cutlery and crockery, as well as religious ritual items. In addition, Emunah B’Simcha encourages more affluent newlyweds to give away wedding gifts they have received but for which they have no use. Such gifts, which are not necessarily basic, enable the less affluent bride and groom to receive what they consider luxury items in their starter packages.

Yet another service provided free of charge by the organization is clothing for the bride, the mother of the bride and groom, or immediate female relations of bride, groom, bar mitzva boy or anyone in economic need requiring a onetime outfit for a special occasion.

These quality dresses and evening gowns, which have been donated by women from different parts of the world, are kept in a discreet boutique in the capital’s Baka neighborhood – allowing even the poorest of women to look like a million bucks and be a Cinderella for that special event in their lives.

MOST OF the newspapers that reported on the funeral in Safed last Wednesday of Kabbalah Center founder Rabbi Philip Berg focused on the presence of actor Ashton Kutcher and his lady love, actress Mila Kunis. Together with fashion icon Donna Karan, they came by private plane to Israel to pay their respects to the man who had been the Kabbalistic guru to the rich and the famous, many of whom were not even Jewish, though some – like Madonna – adopted Jewish names. (Madonna took on the name Esther.) Far more interesting personalities, at least from the Israeli perspective, who were seen among the mourners were Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz and Motty Reif, a producer of TV series and specials who is primarily known for directing spectacular fashion shows. Reif regularly commutes between Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, and may have become acquainted with Berg in LA – but Peretz, now that’s an enigma.

Nearly all those attending wore white, as is the custom among Berg’s disciples. At the conclusion of the ceremony they solemnly sang Ani Ma’amin (I Believe), one of Judaism’s most sacred songs.

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