The King David Hotel.
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/DANNY LYULEV)
Indian President Shri Pranab Mukherjee arrives in Israel on Monday at the invitation of President Reuven Rivlin.
Government offices are pulling out all stops to get ready for the visit, and Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, which will host Mukherjee, has been preparing for more than a month.
Though highly experienced in dealing with foreign dignitaries and their demands, Sheldon Ritz, the King David’s deputy general manager in charge of official delegations, says he has never encountered a time as challenging as this week and next.
For more than a month now he has been in daily contact with officials in Delhi and the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv, as well as with celebrity chef Reena Pushkarna and her husband Vinod, who run highly regarded Indian restaurants in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Herzliya Pituah. Pushkarna has been seconded by the King David to help prepare special Indian dishes to be served to Mukherjee and his large delegation, as well as to some three hundred members of Israel’s Indian community who will attend a special reception at the hotel on Tuesday.
Pushkarna is no stranger to Indian officialdom. Last year she was invited to the swearing- in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is expected to visit Israel next year, and in 2003, she was in the delegation that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon brought to India, where he related that she had taught Israelis to appreciate Indian cuisine.
Pushkarna has been in touch with Mukherjee’s office for the past month, proposing menus, explaining that certain spices are not available in Israel, and why it is difficult under the laws of kashrut to prepare certain raw vegetables that may contain tiny insects.
The president is a vegan, so the meals for the President’s suite must be free of meat, fish or eggs. The president is bringing his own chef, but that does not necessarily mean that he will refrain from sampling Pushkarna’s cooking.
Other special instructions include anti-skid mats for the floor in the bathroom and shower stall, a treadmill, and a hard mattress on a bed not higher than 50 cm. There should be no strong deodorants or room fresheners, there must be English-language and Bengali newspapers, and Indian television. The King David ordered a special satellite to bring Indian television channels to every room in the hotel.
A special one-on-one intercom system was set up from the President’s suite to those of his personal assistant and his doctor.
The Indian delegation has reserved seventy rooms at the King David, plus another thirty rooms at the nearby Dan Panorama.
The press corps traveling with the Indian President is staying at the Inbal hotel, just a little further away, and Pushkarna’s team is working there as well.
Adding to Ritz’s workload, the Presidents of Georgia and Lithuania are arriving on the same day, as is the President of the German Bundesraat. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will also be checking in, as will the Foreign Minister of Romania, and several members of the British Parliament. Just before that, there will be a delegation of Japanese parliamentarians.
Currently staying at the hotel are Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ling, who has come with a large delegation, thirteen International Astronautical Congress participants, including NASA administrator Charles Bolden, and Mitch McConnell, the majority leader in the US Senate.
Ritz made aliya from South Africa in 1992. He has attended to the needs of such diplomats and heads of state as US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.