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Grapevine: The Thais that bind
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
29/05/2014
The 60th anniversary celebrations of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Thailand and Israel takes place next month.
 
It is the duty of every ambassador to promote the interests of his or her country, regardless of whether there happens to be strife there or not. Thus, as a prelude to the 60th anniversary celebrations next month of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Thailand and Israel, Ambassador Jukr Boon-Long, together with the management of the Tel Aviv Hilton and Comtec convention company, organized a gala dinner featuring the best of Thai cuisine, adapted to conform with Jewish dietary regulations.

Some 400 guests were invited to sample the culinary magic, including several ambassadors and their spouses, among them Austrian, Australian, Korean and Japanese Ambassadors Franz Josef Kuglitsch, Dave Sharma, Kim Il Soo and Hideo Sato. Thai celebrity chef Mom Luang Sirichalerm Svastivadhana, better known professionally as Chef McDang, was flown in from Thailand.

Tel Aviv Hilton executive chef Avigdor Brueh said it was a joy to work with him, not only because Brueh picked up some tips on the secrets of Thai food, but because Chef McDang, though professionally meticulous, is something of a stand-up comedian – and had everyone in stitches.

Chef McDang, who has written cookbooks and has his own television show, is a member of the Thai royal family and is closely related to the king. He was educated in England and the US, and his English is therefore perfect and has a faint trace of an American accent.

The Thai culinary experience for most Israelis has been stir fried noodles with vegetables and for the carnivorously inclined, included strips of chicken or beef. But Chef McDang had a much more varied menu, and explained that the essence of Thai cuisine is having a medley of flavors and textures in the mouth, savoring them separately and together.

Indeed, the five-course meal he served up did have a delightful blend of flavors and textures, and with the exception of dessert, each course was initially deceptively mild to the taste, but then became really hot and spicy once it penetrated the taste buds. The antidote, though it was not made public, was to swish white wine in the mouth; it immediately alleviates the burning sensation.

In any case, the coconut creme brulee dessert with pumpkin puree was somewhat of a surprise and possibly disappointing to those who are used to well-prepared regular creme brulee, which is not as liquid and comes without pumpkin. But the mango ice cream that was also on the plate was deliciously refreshing.

The magnificent floral centerpieces, comprising either orchids, bird of paradise or luxurious ferns, looked even more glorious because the tables were set with black tablecloths. The black napkins and the chairs covered in black collectively provided a dramatic backdrop for the strong hues of the flowers.

Prior to the dinner, Boon-Long and his wife, Kamolrat, generally known as Took, hosted a cocktail reception where as is the case at nearly all Thai receptions, there were Thai musicians in traditional garb playing ancient, traditional instruments.

A fruit and vegetable sculptress also did beautifully delicate carvings on fruit and vegetables, one of the great Thai arts.

Needless to say, the décor included Thai fans and parasols, and waitstaff uniforms were adorned with Thai scarves and sashes.

The ambassador’s wife, who is always stunningly elegant, wore an exquisite black Thai silk, ankle-length, strapless gown accessorized with a belt, choker and stiletto sandals, all in gold.

■ WITH PRESIDENTIAL election fever mounting and various publications conducting polls about public preferences for Israel’s 10th president, Israel Radio’s political commentator Hanan Kristal keeps reminding news anchors that it’s not the public that votes for the president, but the 120-member Knesset. This makes it unlikely though not impossible that any of the six candidates will score a landslide victory in the first round. The second round is far more crucial, and could even produce a surprise result. Now, all that remains to be seen is whether the turnaround in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s attitude to front-runner candidate Reuven Rivlin will be helpful or harmful to Rivlin’s chances.

■ ALL THE world loves a wedding, but never more so than in the Polish Jewish community – where Jewish weddings in full accordance with the Law of Moses and Israel are all too rare. However, there is a very festive wedding coming up on June 22 at the White Stork Synagogue in Wroclaw, where Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Wroclaw’s Chief Rabbi Tyson Herberger will unite Katka Reszke and Slawomir Grünberg in wedlock.

The two rabbis are American-born. The bride and groom were born in Poland, but until they were adults did not know they were Jewish. This is not uncommon among Poles born during the Communist era, and like many other Polish young adults, the two decided to reclaim their heritage. More than that, they have become active in Jewish life in Poland.

They met in 2007 and have since been bound romantically as well as professionally, dividing their time between Poland and New York. The bride is a writer, documentary filmmaker, photographer and researcher of Jewish history, culture and identity. Born and raised in Wrocław, she holds a PhD in Jewish education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a master’s in cultural studies from the University of Wroclaw, and a diploma in Jewish studies from the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Author of Return Of The Jew: Identity Narratives of the Third Post-Holocaust Generation of Jews in Poland, Reszke has lectured on aspects of the Polish- Jewish experience at numerous American and European educational and cultural institutions. Her documentary films include Shimon’s Returns, Magda and Coming Out Polish Style.

The groom is an award-winning director, producer and cinematographer. A graduate of the Polish Film School in Lodz, he has directed and produced more than 45 documentaries. He is a recipient of Guggenheim and Soros Justice Media Fellowships and an Emmy winner for PBS documentary School Prayer: A Community at War. His films include The Peretzniks (Perecowicze), Castaways, The Legacy of Jedwabne, Saved by Deportation and Coming Out Polish Style. His cinematography credits feature two Oscar nominations for Legacy and Sister Rose’s Passion; his latest films include Karski & The Lords of Humanity and Shimon’s Returns.

Schudrich, a native New Yorker, initially came to Poland in 1990 under the auspices of the Ronald Lauder Foundation.

Based in Warsaw, he has become totally integrated in Poland’s Jewish life and travels throughout the country to participate in a variety of Jewish activities and gatherings, and to perform religious services.

Herberger, who was raised in Michigan, has been in Wroclaw since 2013, having previously worked as a rabbi in Warsaw.

Reszke and Grunberg have decided to turn their wedding into a festival, perhaps spurred by the success of the annual Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, which attracts thousands of people and this year takes place from June 27-July 6. Following Krakow’s success, theatrical personality Golda Tencer of the Shalom Foundation established the annual Singer Jewish Culture Festival in Warsaw in 2004; this year’s festival will take place from August 23-31.

Now, Reszke and Grunberg want to put Wroclaw on Poland’s map of Jewish culture.

Not that it hasn’t been; it has to a smaller extent thanks to the efforts of Norwegian- born singer Bente Kahan, who specializes in preserving Yiddish songs and through her foundation, has supported the renovation of the White Stork Synagogue and the promotion of Jewish culture in Wroclaw. With the enthusiastic support of Kahan, Aleksander Gleichgewicht and Magdalena Dorosz, president and deputy director respectively of the Jewish community of Wroclaw, Herberger and Schudrich have decided to turn their wedding into a festival of Jewish life in Poland – as it was, and as it is.

Prominent figures and artists from Jewish communities around the world have been invited, and the wedding will be an open house for Jews and non-Jews alike.

The day will be filled with music, dance and artistic activities.

The three-story neoclassical White Stork Synagogue, where the wedding ceremony will be held, dates back to 1829 and was rededicated in 2010 following a decade-long renovation. It is the only synagogue in Wroclaw that survived the Holocaust.

■ TO MARK the 30th day of the passing of Prof. Reuven Feuerstein, who did so much to enable so many youngsters to bypass roadblocks to their intellectual potential and achieve things neither they nor their parents ever dared dream possible, the Feuerstein Institute will on Monday, June 2 at 6:30 p.m. host a memorial ceremony at Ussishkin Hall in the Jerusalem International Convention Center.

Speakers will include Education Minister Shai Piron, Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen, Israel Prize laureate Rabbanit Adina Bar-Shalom, former justice minister Yaakov Neeman, Sheikh of Hebron Farid Haber el-Jabari and Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, vice president of the institute that was founded by his late father.

The guiding philosophy of the Feuerstein Institute is that everyone – regardless of age, etiology or disability – has the immeasurable ability to enhance their learning aptitude and heighten their intelligence.

Prof. Feuerstein, who fled to prestate Palestine following the Nazi invasion of his native Romania, was a clinical, developmental and cognitive psychologist who developed a unique teaching method, which helped hundreds of thousands of people in Israel and around the world improve their learning abilities and thinking and analyzing skills.

■ IT’S BEEN quite an ecumenical week for President Shimon Peres, who in the space of three days hosted Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church; Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, primate of the Eastern Orthodox Church; and the winners of the Katz Prize (one of whom is the former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth) for their contributions to Halacha. Moreover, the pope’s entourage included Muslims, even though Peres did not have any one-onone meetings with Muslim clergy.

This past Sunday and Monday, Jerusalem – especially the street on which the President’s Residence is situated – was saturated with yellow-and-white papal flags.

By Tuesday, all the papal flags had been removed and replaced by Jerusalem flags, in celebration of Jerusalem Day. Inside the presidential compound, the many flags that had decorated the grounds were gone. All that remained of the previous events were a photographer’s stand that had not been dismantled, the yellow-andwhite flower arrangement and the red carpet. The papal flag had been replaced by that of the ecumenical patriarch, and there was no visitor’s book to sign.

A presidential spokesman explained that Francis, as a head of state, had signed the visitor’s book, but Bartholomew is neither a head of state nor a member of government nor a diplomat presenting credentials, so according to protocol, he didn’t sign the visitor’s book.

Before sitting down in the smaller of the two reception rooms, Peres took the primate and his seven-member delegation on a tour of the gardens, walking past the trees planted by pope Benedict XVI, US President Barack Obama, French President François Hollande and Pope Francis himself.

Bartholomew instantly recognized Obama’s magnolia tree, which has defied dire predictions that it wouldn’t grow in Israel – and is now tall and positively thriving.

Peres pointed out, as he always does to guests in the garden, the hybrid olive and fig tree that continues to flourish.

They proceeded to the synagogue at the far end of the grounds and Peres donned a large black kippa, before opening the Holy Ark and explaining the provenance of the ancient Torah scrolls in their ornate silver cases. With Bartholomew’s departure from the President’s Residence, his flag also went into storage – as presidential staff readied for the arrival of the learned rabbis who had contributed to the teaching, understanding and interpretation of Halacha.

■ THE NUMBER of events the pope was able to attend during his very brief stay in Israel was quite mind-boggling, especially taking into account the number of people he had to meet at each event.

For instance, when he was hosted by Chief Rabbis Yosef Yitzhak and David Lau, guests at the meeting included Eli Beer, founder and president of United Hatzalah, the emergency rapid response organization which engages in lifesaving work and makes no distinction between Jews, Muslims and Christians. Beer explained the significance of the organization’s work to the pontiff, and presented him with a miniature ambucycle. He told the pope that ambucycles can often get to places faster than ambulances, and can also maneuver narrow and difficult terrain that is inaccessible to larger vehicles.

The pope was particularly moved when Beer told him that United Hatzalah has just started a chapter in Francis’s native Argentina, and plans to expand wherever possible around the globe.

Lau also commended the work of United Hatzalah, specifically during the second intifada, when so many people lost their lives to suicide murderers. This resonated with the pope, who had already seen the memorial wall to victims of terrorism.

greerfc@gmail.com
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