AMONG THE visitors to the Schalit tent in Jerusalem over the past week was Ofra Strauss, one of the most powerful businesswomen not only here, but in the world. Strauss’ philanthropic activities include the Adopt a Soldier foundation, which she chaired from 1997-1998. But it was not entirely in that capacity that she chose to support the effort to bring home Gilad Schalit. Strauss and Aviva Schalit went to school together in Nahariya, and that childhood bond is a strong tie.

“It’s impossible to be a mother in this country and to not be involved in the Gilad Schalit issue,” said Strauss, who pledged to do all that she could to help the kidnapped soldier’s family.

The solidarity demonstrated by people from many parts of the country who came to Jerusalem last Saturday night to mark Schalit’s 24th birthday, was almost shattered when sections of the massive crowd began to boo and catcall Kadima’s Dalia Itzik, demanding that she step down from the stage.

But order was quickly restored by the emotionally moving message delivered by actress Osnat Vishinsky, whose 20-year-old son Lior was killed on active service in Rafiah in May 2004, and by best-selling author Yochi Brandeis, who has two sons in the army. Both women acknowledged their fears about what would happen if Israel, in exchange for Schalit, releases hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, some of whom have blood on their hands, but each was adamant that national security would be in greater danger if Israel failed to reach a deal with Hamas, because the message to youth of army age would be that they can’t rely on the army to rescue them if they are captured, and that in turn would result in more dropouts from the army. “We must not allow fear to rule our lives,” said Vishinsky.

■ GENERALLY SPEAKING, heads of foreign missions celebrate their national days with a reception held either in a hotel or at the residence of the ambassador.

There have been a few exceptions in terms of venue, such as a kibbutz, a moshav and the campus of Tel Aviv University, but now it seems as if there is a new trend towards unique locations for diplomatic receptions.

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jun, even though he has a spacious garden at his residence, will host his country’s national day at the end of the month at the Roman amphitheater in Beit She’an. And Bernardo Greiver, the ambassador of Uruguay, last week hosted a reception marking his country’s 185th anniversary of independence at the romantically beautiful Ralli Museum in Caesarea. The reception was held in the museum’s plaza, which is surrounded by a haciendastyle structure, and after the formal ceremony, guests went inside for the grand opening of an exhibition by two of Uruguay’s most important artists, Pedro Figari and Eduardo Sarlos.

The cuisine at the reception was also Uruguayan, and although there was plenty of food, the chefs had to keep cooking because guests kept coming back for more. It was just too good to resist.

In addition to Independence Day and the opening of the art exhibition, Greiver also marked the conclusion of his first year here. Last year, when presenting his credentials, Greiver, who is a graduate of a Hebrew day school in Montevideo, exclaimed emotionally in Hebrew: “All my life I said ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ – and this year we were in Jerusalem for Rosh Hashana.”

The “we” included his Hebrew-speaking wife Karen and sons Daniel and Alejandro.

The Independence Day celebration was also an emotional affair in that one of the guests was historian, teacher, author and storyteller Muki Tsur, a member of Kibbutz Ein Gev and a former secretary-general of the United Kibbutz Movement. Greiver met Tsur soon after arriving here. The reason that the meeting was significant was not only because Tsur is an important personality, but also because his father Ya’acov Tsur was the country’s first ambassador to Uruguay and only the fourth person to be appointed an ambassador.

Tsur presented Greiver with a copy of his father’s credentials, which had been signed by David Ben- Gurion, the prime minister of the interim government, and Moshe Shertok, the foreign minister, who had not yet Hebraicized his name to Sharett.

In his remarks Greiver noted that Uruguay had been among the first countries to recognize Israel and establish diplomatic relations, and more recently was the first country to implement the Mercosur Free Trade Agreement with Israel. (Israel’s acceptance by Mercosur was ratified toward the end of last year when President Shimon Peres paid state visits to Brazil and Argentina).

Greiver explained that the reason that the reception was held at the Ralli Museum was that because the first of five such museums established by Harry Recanati (who was unfortunately too ill to attend) had been in Uruguay. He also said that to celebrate Uruguay’s independence in such a place was a good way to wish peace to Israel and all the countries in the region.

Tsur, addressing the guests in the Italian-influenced Spanish spoken in Uruguay, recalled what it had been like that eventful day more than 60 years ago when his family had arrived in Montevideo. As the ship began to approach the coastline, the young Muki could see the port filled with flag-waving people of all ages, including children who were younger than he.

Hands were stretched out in greeting and as the ship sailed into port thousands of strangely accented voices rang out with the spontaneous singing of “Hatikva.”

To this day, Tsur regards it as the most moving rendition of the national anthem that he has ever heard. The second secretary of that first mission to Uruguay was Yitzhak Navon, who was destined to become the country’s fifth president.

Minister without Portfolio Bennie Begin had been scheduled to represent the government at the Uruguayan reception, but was caught in a protracted traffic jam on his way out of Jerusalem, and there was no way that he was going to get to Caesarea before the scheduled conclusion of the event.

Begin had also been to Uruguay as a boy, accompanying his parents, and his speech was peppered with memories of that time as well as some interesting historic gossip. Fortunately Dorit Shavit, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Latin America, had a copy which she read on Begin’s behalf.

Begin’s most vivid memory from six decades ago was the Uruguayan enthusiasm for soccer.

Turning to history, Begin observed that as far back as 1920, Uruguay, at the San Remo Conference, had been instrumental in transforming the Balfour Declaration from an expression of sympathy for the aspirations of the Jewish people to something binding in law. Later, in April 1947, Uruguay voted in favor of the establishment of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. One of its members was Enrico Rodrigues Fabrigant of Uruguay, who together with another member met secretly with Menachem Begin when he was still head of the Irgun Zvai Leumi and on the British wanted list. Begin did not immediately reveal his identity, but as the conversation drew to its conclusion, the other UNSCOP member asked his name and when Begin gave it, exclaimed: “Ah, you’re that man!” Fabrigant remained silent, and simply moved toward Begin and embraced him.

Uruguay was subsequently active in mobilizing support for the partition of Palestine at the fateful vote taken at the United Nations on November 29, 1947.

Even though Uruguay, in later years, was among those countries that moved its embassy from Jerusalem to the Coastal Plain, its support and friendship remained steadfast.

In recognition of that, announced Shavit, Uruguay’s President José Mujica will receive the Jerusalem Prize 2010 at a public ceremony in the Jewish community hall in Montevideo on September 2. The Jerusalem Prize is sponsored by the World Zionist Organization’s Department for Zionist Activities and is awarded annually by Zionist federations to outstanding personalities, Jewish and non-Jewish, who have demonstrated exceptional support for Israel, Jerusalem and the Zionist cause. Laura Taragan, president of the Zionist Organization of Uruguay, together with Gerardo Stuczynski, president of the Zionist Confederation of Latin America, will confer the prize on Mujica.

■ COINCIDENTALLY, THE grand finale of A Star Is Born and the first night of Slihot take place this coming Saturday night, September 4. Ordinarily that shouldn’t bother anyone considering that the two events attract different sectors of the population. But this year it’s a real problem which could possibly have the most adverse effects on the coalition of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. The grand finale of A Star Is Born will for the first time take place in Jerusalem. The venue is the Sultan’s Pool, just outside the walls of the Old City. The largest attendance at Slihot prayers is at the Western Wall, and there will also be Slihot at the renewed Hurva Synagogue and at various other synagogues and yeshivot in the Old City.

Traffic congestion would be bad enough if only one of these two events were happening, but with the two on the same night and in such proximity, the name of the game will be chaos. But that’s not what may affect the future of the coalition. Barkat considered it a real coup to bring the popular talent quest (which will be televised live) to Jerusalem. The problem is that people coming from out of town will probably violate the Sabbath to get there in time, and even Jerusalemites, wary of the traffic, may set out from home well before the Sabbath is over. Preparations for the show may also result in a desecration of the Sabbath, and the haredim in Barkat’s coalition are understandably unhappy and concerned that the city may possibly be giving a rubber stamp to Sabbath desecration.

As it was, they weren’t thrilled with the idea of bringing A Star Is Born to the capital – even if it had been on a day that wouldn’t intrude on the Sabbath.

Now they and numerous rabbis have gone overboard in trying to persuade Barkat to cancel the event, but to no avail.

■ IN THE days when she worked as a model or as a hostess or anchor on Channel 9, MK Anastasia Michaeli often wore dramatic and revealing outfits.

Ever since she became a parliamentarian, her choice of attire has become so conservative that when back in her old stomping ground for the Channel 9 broadcast of the Miss Universe contest, she was the only one wearing a suit. More than that, she wore it over a high-necked blouse, while Anna Aranov who hosted the program, cosmetics queen and former MK Pnina Rosenblum, who was a model before she became a businesswoman, and Yana Kalman, who was Miss Israel 1995, all wore sleeveless dresses with low-cut necklines.

Channel 9, the Russian-language channel, had the exclusive broadcast rights for the screening of the Miss Universe contest. The deal was made by diamond merchant and real estate developer Lev Leviev, whose Africa-Israel conglomerate has the controlling interest in Channel 9. Unfortunately 21-year-old Bat- El Jobi from Afula, who was placed first runner up in this year’s Miss Israel competition, and represented the country in the Miss Universe contest, did not succeed in impressing the judges. She seems set for an international modeling career, even though she didn’t make it to the first three Miss Universe slots.

■ IT MAY be a woman’s touch or the fact that Shabbat comes in earlier and more people finish eating in time to watch the weekend Yoman on Channel 1, but whatever the reason, according to the Israel Broadcasting Authority spokeswoman’s office, the ratings shot up last Friday from an average of 7.5 to 9.3 percent indicating that some 181,000 viewers watched the show. Taking into account the number of religious people who don’t watch television on Friday nights, plus the number of people who go out to dinner or go clubbing on Friday nights, anchorwoman Ayala Hasson has every right to feel proud, especially as this was the highest rating scored this year.

■ THE SYMPATHIES of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Sara Netanyahu, the wife of the prime minister, for the plight of those children of foreign workers who are at risk of being deported, are taken with more than a grain of salt by Dr. Yariv Ben-Eliezer, director of media studies at the IDC’s Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy. Ben-Eliezer, who also happens to be the grandson of David Ben-Gurion, has declared in radio and television interviews that the concerns expressed by Barak and Netanyahu are nothing more than a public relations gimmick to repair their respective negative images. Gimmick or otherwise, one would hope that both of the above mentioned also have a little heart.

■ WITH ROSH Hashana around the corner, thousands of Jews here and abroad are getting ready for the annual pilgrimage to Uman in Ukraine, to visit the grave of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav. Not all those who go are Bratslav Hassidim, and some are not even religiously observant. The Ukrainians are making a lot of money out of this temporary Jewish presence, and many families are bereft of the head of the household during one of the most important holiday periods in the Jewish calendar.

In recent years there’s been another option for those who believe that it’s good luck to visit the grave of the sages during the months of Elul and Tishrei. Many of his followers around the world join Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto who divides his time between New York and Israel, and who makes a point of visiting the grave in Selestria, Bulgaria of 18th century moralist and halachic authority Rabbi Eliezer Pappo, author of Pele Yo’etz.

Like Rabbi Ya’acov Ifergen of Netivot, Pinto comes from a family with a reputation for clairvoyance, and also like Ifergen, Pinto has a highly regarded ability for giving businesspeople advice that is advantageous to them. He can read people like a book, knowing what may be bothering them and when they are healthy or otherwise. In addition to business deals he also advises them on medical treatment. Not only top-notch businesspeople seek the advice of both Ifergen and Pinto. Each is also much sought after by politicians, leading sporting personalities and prominent figures in the entertainment industry. Pinto makes his pilgrimage to Bulgaria before Rosh Hashana, accompanied by planeloads of pilgrims ■ WHAT IS it about the 1960s that is so inspirational? The fashion industry has turned back the clock to the best of what was in vogue during the ’60s, and entertainment- wise, the big stars of the ’60s are in some cases coming out of mothballs, and in others discovering a new surge of popularity and gathering fans who were not even born when they were at their peak. In this country alone over the past two years, there was rave response to performances by Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen, Paul Anka and Elton John.

Now there’s an Internet petition to bring Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, who were last here in 1984. Simon had previously come as a soloist in 1978.

There have been numerous tributes to the duo with various local singers reviving some of their best hits, and DJs frequently play their recordings on radio.

According to their official Web site, a tour originally set for April was postponed till July, and then was postponed indefinitely while Garfunkel recovers from a vocal paresis. Doctors expect him to make a full recovery, but cannot predict an exact time line. Meanwhile they’re not performing anywhere.

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