Grapevine: Diplomatic summit at the King David

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October 1, 2015 22:06
 King David Hotel

The King David Hotel. (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/DANNY LYULEV)

Jerusalem’s King David Hotel has for more than half a century been a meeting place for royalty, heads of state, prime ministers, foreign and defense ministers and diplomats from Israel and around the world, including prominent figures of the Palestinian Authority.

It is not unusual to see the flags of two and even three different countries simultaneously displayed in the lobby. But it’s rare to have four and more at the same time.

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However, the exception to the rule will be just after mid-October when the presidents of India, Lithuania and Georgia will all be staying at the hotel on the same date, along with their ministerial entourages, and other dignitaries on the hotel’s guest list include the president of the German Bundesrat.

Attending to all their needs will be Sheldon Ritz, the deputy general manager of the King David, who is also in charge of official delegations.

Ritz is one of those fortunate people who manages to never look flustered and who, even when pulled in different directions by demanding guests, succeeds in maintaining his cool and responding with his customary polite efficiency. Still, given the number of ministers and ambassadors in addition to presidents, doing what he does best will be a bigger challenge than ever.

■ FOR SEVERAL years now, Matityahu Cheshin, affectionately dubbed by a former US ambassador as the haredi consul, has been hosting Succot celebrations to which invitees include members of the diplomatic community.

Cheshin is actually in close contact with the diplomatic community all year round. Many diplomats stationed in Israel are curious about the haredi lifestyle and eager to meet leaders of the different haredi communities. Cheshin organizes tours of religious institutions for them and introduces them to rabbinic authorities.

He firmly believes that it is important for foreign diplomats serving in Israel to familiarize themselves with all the multifaceted sides of the country, and as far as ultra-Orthodox Jews are concerned, he is convinced that if diplomats have a personal connection with them, they can help to dispel false concepts about Jews in their home countries.

At the Succot festivities that he hosted this year, he told of having eight years ago taken a Latvian ambassador to a matza-baking plant where he was able to see the whole process of baking matzot. The ambassador watched very keenly and then said in a tone of satisfaction that he would tell everyone at home that matzot are made with flour and water and contain no Christian blood.

In previous years Cheshin and his wife hosted the Succot festivities in their apartment in the capital’s Ramot neighborhood, but the guest list – which included a lot of haredim – kept expanding and there simply wasn’t enough room. Aside from that, female guests had to sit in the adjacent parlor, due to gender segregation, and missed out on the spirit of the festival.

So this year Cheshin moved the event to the much larger succa of the Orthodox Union in the Talbiyeh neighborhood, where there is also a large area for women. And indeed there was at least one female diplomat present – Dorothy Camille Shea, the deputy principal officer of the United States Consulate General in Jerusalem. This is her second posting in Israel. Her first was at the embassy in Tel Aviv 10 years ago, after which she served in Washington and Tunisia, where she encountered the vibrant Jewish community of Jerba.

Cheshin regretted that US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, whom he greatly admires for his sharp analytical abilities, was unable to attend, due to more pressing matters such as the UN General Assembly, but was pleased to welcome deputy chief of mission David J. Schwartz. Among the other male diplomats were representatives of the Philippines and the Czech Republic.

Haredi diversity was evidenced in part by the difference in attire – shtreimels, knee pants and long white sox, black frock coats and Yerushalmi gold-striped kapotes, black frock coats and regular business suits.

The men joined hands and danced in a circle, and some of the hassidim also performed a couple of solo dances, including the traditional dance with a bottle balanced on the head, and impressively executed by a stockily built white-bearded man whose agility defied his age.

The haredi guests included visitors from abroad as well as from other parts of Israel. Among them was a great-grandson of the renowned Lithuanian Talmudist Israel Meir Hacohen Kagan, more widely known as the Hafetz Haim. Yisrael Meir Zaks, who is named for his great-grandfather whose photo he carries with him in his cellphone, came with his wife, Sara. Zaks is the second of 16 siblings – nine males and seven females – who were all born to the one mother, and who are all married with offspring of their own.

■ WHILE WEDNESDAY of this week encompassed many celebrations and festivals around the country, it was a very sad day for more than 200 employees of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, who – tired of uncertainty and humiliation, and tempted by a severance pay bonus of NIS 105,000 which was promised to all those who resigned voluntarily – tendered their so-called voluntary resignations. The names of many of them have been announced by their colleagues on Israel Radio over the last two or three weeks.

But there is always a snag where the IBA is concerned. The bonus was offered only to those people who resigned before September 30. It was subsequently realized that, due to all the Jewish holidays in September/ October, all the things pertaining to final arrangements for those who were leaving could not be completed in time. So the bonus offer was extended to the end of October, in the hope that this would prompt more people to resign and save IBA liquidator David Hahn the unpleasant task of firing people.

Unfortunately, however, according to Steve Leibowitz – whose last day of work was on Wednesday, before handing over the reins to Arieh O’Sullivan, who is the new head of IBA English News – everyone on the team, with the exception of O’Sullivan and Efrat Batat, resigned, and there is no way for them to retract and earn another month’s salary.

Thus IBA English News, which was launched 25 years ago with a 17-member team, has been reduced to two people. O’Sullivan says that he will have to change the format, due to lack of staff. Meanwhile, there was no big farewell party. Leibowitz opined that this was because there are just too many people leaving.

It was anticipated that up to 300 more will resign by the end of October.

This may severely affect broadcasts, because essential staff are included among those who have resigned.

When it was suggested to Leibowitz that more than enough people have left or are leaving to enable the establishment of a high quality Internet broadcasting network, his reply was, “You need someone with deep pockets to pay salaries.”

■ YOU DON’T necessarily have to be Jewish to build a succa. British ambassador David Quarrey, though not a member of the tribe, is continuing a tradition set by his predecessor, Matthew Gould, and together with his partner Aldo Henriquez, along with members and volunteers from Akim Ramat Gan-Givatayim, decorated the succa at the British Residence in Ramat Gan.

Although the British Embassy has had a relationship with Akim for the past 12 years, this was only the fifth consecutive year in which Akim has come to the residence to help decorate the succa.

Many people who reach high office come with the principle of a new broom sweeps clean and prefer to ignore the initiatives of their predecessors.

Quarrey is obviously not that kind of a person, and accepts a positive concept for its value, regardless of who may have initially introduced it.

■ IN ALL probability, Quarrey will also follow the example of his predecessors and attend the annual Balfour Dinner, which will be hosted by the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association on November 9 at the Tel Aviv Hilton. The guest speakers will be Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, and MK Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid party.

THIS PAST week has been somewhat hectic for legendary French Jewish director Claude Lanzmann, who was honored at the Haifa Film Festival on Saturday night, and had the southern beach promenade in Netanya named in his honor on Tuesday afternoon.

The idea for linking Lanzmann’s name with Netanya in perpetuity was that of Ambassador to France Yossi Gal, and among those attending the naming ceremony was France’s Ambassador to Israel Patrick Maisonnave, who made some very complimentary remarks about Netanya and said that it was an ideal place for French immigrants. Longtime Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg Ikar spoke of her great admiration for Lanzmann, who will celebrate his 90th birthday in November, and invited him to come and make his home in Netanya.

Lanzmann, who first visited Israel in 1952, would probably feel very comfortable in Netanya, given its ever-growing French-speaking population.

He is best known for his documentary Shoah, but has directed other Holocaust-related films, including Sobibor, The Karski Report and The Last of the Just. Fierberg Ikar made the point that the promenade is located close to the monument marking the victory over the Nazi forces.

■ YET ANOTHER famed filmmaker, Inna Rogatchi of Italy, and her artist husband, Michael Rogatchi, who were personal friends of legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, are currently in Israel to attend the screenings next week in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa of her film, based on conversations with Wiesenthal, The lessons of Survival: Conversations with Simon Wiesenthal. The film, which includes special footage of Mathausen, also contains material that, to the best of Rogatchi’s knowledge, has never been shown before.

The Rogatchis, who are also great philanthropists and who have many friends in Israel, will remain in the country until October 19.

■ FANS OF internationally acclaimed singer David D’Or may be surprised to learn that he has actually reached middle age. D’Or celebrates his 50th birthday today on October 2 and continues to regard his amazing voice as a gift of which he is the guardian.

He has not allowed the fact that he has sung in the most prestigious concerts halls around the world and at the private events of heads of state to affect his genuinely modest and polite personality, and in the radio shows that he occasionally hosts he invariably highlights the positive elements of Israeli society instead of focusing on the negative.

■ NOT SO long ago an item in this column related to Rabbi Dov Lipman and his love for baseball reflected that one can take the man out of America but not America out of the man. The same holds true for Australians who, no matter how many years they may be away from the country, will never cease to be enthusiastic about cricket and Australian rules football.

One of the most ardent of football enthusiasts is Paul Israel, the executive director of the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce, who is showered with compliments by members of Australian trade missions to Israel who appreciate the quiet, laid-back efficiency with which he organizes meetings and events. He displays the same degree of efficiency for organizing special screenings of important football matches involving Australian teams.

He had arranged for screenings on Saturday, October 3, of the 2015 AFL Grand Final between Hawthorn and West Coast and the Rugby World Cup between Australia and England to be screened at MASH on Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv. But the premises were flooded and the screenings could not take place.

Undeterred, Israel pursued other options, with the result that the AFL game will be screened at 7.30 a.m.

Saturday at MASH Central, 38 Allenby Street, near the corner of Ben-Yehuda, Tel Aviv, and the Rugby match at 10 p.m. at Patrick’s Irish Pub, 39 Rothschild Boulevard. Entry to both venues is free of charge, but sports fans are requested to at least buy a beer.

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