THE LINGUISTIC skills of President Shimon Peres were put to the test on Tuesday of last week. In the morning, he used his English skills when hosting Maccabiah donors, sponsors and athletes who joined representatives of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry at a reception on the lawns of Beit Hanassi, and in the evening he chatted in French at the Bastille Day celebrations hosted by French Ambassador Jean-Michel Casa and his wife Isabella.
In the morning Peres not only mingled with the crowd, but allowed himself to be embraced by anyone and everyone, posing with many groups and individuals including champion US swimmer Jason Lezak, and British soccer legend Sir Bobby Charlton for dozens of photos.
While Peres was obviously enjoying the adulation, it was a very trying time for his bodyguards, who were simultaneously protective, yet cutting the visitors sufficient slack to get really close to the president.
Some of the female visitors, wanting to impress the folks back home with their close relationship with Israel's Number One citizen, snuggled up against his shoulder as relatives and friends snapped away.
The president's aides tried in vain to steer him in the direction of the main reception hall, but Peres was lapping up the attention and didn't seem at all ill at ease in a suit despite the heat. Charlton also wore a suit for the occasion, though almost everyone else was in casual attire.
When Peres eventually did go inside, he good naturedly chastised some of his staff and asked: "Why do you want me to give a speech, when all they're interested in is hugging and kissing?" Turning to reporters he characterized the Maccabiah as being a fusion of sports discipline and Jewish atmosphere. He was particularly pleased to see so many young people and said that he found the opening very moving.
Later when addressing the crowd, he referred to Charlton as "the greatest football player in history" and spoke of his contribution to peace, citing the excitement he evoked when coaching a group of Israeli and Palestinian youngsters. "He's doing a great job for peace," said Peres who remarked that at the Peres Peace Center they had learned long ago that what young people admire most is athletes - especially a football player, but also swimmers and tennis players. "Their eyes begin to shine and their differences disappear. Sport is the greatest preparation for peace because it has the spirit of competition but not the spirit of confrontation."
BASTILLE DAY was also Casa's swan song, and he used the occasion to bid farewell in excellent Hebrew, but then switched to French out of noblesse oblige, not to mention the number of native French speakers congregated on his lawn. Casa emphasized the universal message of liberty, equality and fraternity symbolized by Bastille Day, and said how happy he had been to serve as ambassador "in this fascinating and exciting country."
He also paid tribute to his staff, saying: "I had a diplomatic dream team." Casa praised Peres as a symbol in the development and continuity of France-Israel relations, called him "the president of peace" and said: "I take my leave from you at the same time as I take my leave from this country which is so dear to my heart."
Peres lauded Casa "for the wonderful service you have rendered to France and for enhancing France-Israel relations." Looking out at the vast crowd, he said its size was indicative of Casa's popularity. "This is not good-bye," he said, "but simply au revoir."
Peres confessed to being a Francophile, noting that France has given the world not only the concept of liberty, equality and fraternity but also good taste, a sense of style and a love of change.
LAST WEEK, Continental Airlines, the world's fifth largest, celebrated its 75th anniversary along with the 10th anniversary of its New York-Tel Aviv route. The latter event was by way of a gala dinner for members of the aviation and travel industries at the residence of US Ambassador James Cunningham and his wife Leslie. Also listed on the invitation was Continental Airlines chairman and CEO Larry Kellner, who didn't show but sent a perky message via video from Houston. Other senior company executives from the US and Europe were present and rumors quickly began to fly with regard to Kellner's absence. The rumors proved to be true: Kellner was busy putting in his resignation that becomes effective at the end of the year when he will be replaced by CA president Jeff Smisek.
Cunningham spoke of the important role that Continental has played in boosting business and tourist traffic between the US and Israel. David Hilfman, senior vice president for worldwide sales, is a great fan of Israel and was mentioned as such in Kellner's video. Hilfman said that Israel was so important to the company that he had told Kellner that whether he was coming or not, Hilfman definitely intended to be in Israel for the festivities. Expressing appreciation to Israeli travel agent whose input was a key contribution to the company's success. Hilfman said: "We'll never take it for granted. This is an important market for us."
The sentiment was echoed by Avi Friedman who heads the company's Israel operations. Friedman said that even though he gets the credit, without the team work, he would not have been able to achieve anything. Eldad Shrem's Big Band provided a mostly American repertoire of background music. Singer Carmi Shimron did a take on Marilyn Monroe's "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," when she sang "Happy Birthday Continental Airlines." At the end of the evening, every guest received a potted orchid.
WHILE JERUSALEM appears frequently in documentary films, there are very few feature films about Jerusalem, according to Jerusalem Cinematheque and Film Festival director Ilan de Vries. He should know because the Jerusalem Cinematheque is home to the most comprehensive archive of Israeli films and, according to law, must receive a copy of every film made here.
The information on the dearth of feature films about Jerusalem was imparted at what was an unusual Film Festival event, the promotion of a future feature film with the aim of raising NIS 1 million toward production costs to match the NIS 1 million already provided by the Israel Film Fund. Written and directed by Nissim Nutrika and produced by Riki Shelach, the film's working title is The Past Is Still Ahead of Him and tells the author's autobiographical tale of growing up in a dysfunctional family in Nahlaot with an adulterous father and a mother who came from a rabbinic family in the Old City and who didn't believe in divorce.
The story includes the color of the neighborhood, so much so that when Orna Banai read the script, she told Nutrika that she could smell her grandmother's cooking. Banai will be one of the lead players in the film along with Edna Balilius. Both women loved the script, and Balilius who was present when it was introduced to potential investors in the film, confirmed this. Among the other people present were lawyer Yechiel Gutman, who has written books and plays and is soon to appear in a new law-related television series on Channel 1, socialite Dvora Rejwan, building contractor Kushi Barashi, short story writer and novelist Bertha Naim and her husband Sasson Naim, chairman of the World Association of Aramaic Speakers, filmmaker Vered Kollek and Revital Balashnikov representing her husband Avi Balashnikov, the former director-general of the Knesset who subsequently went to work in the State Comptroller's Office and who is currently representing philanthropist Ronald Lauder here. He had to go to Hungary on Lauder business, but sent his wife to the Cinematheque to say that he was interested in the project.
FOR HOLOCAUST survivors there is no sweeter revenge against Hitler than the growth of their families. When Auschwitz and Buchenwald survivor Nathan Werdiger and his wife Nechama were planning to come here from Melbourne, Australia, to join their daughter and son-in-law Debbie and Robbie Nossbaum in celebrating the wedding in Jerusalem of the Werdigers' granddaughter journalist Sari Nossbaum to lawyer Yair Givati, an eighth generation Israeli, they counted on bringing some other members of their large family, but had not initially realized that there would be another joyful family event on the day after the wedding.
As it happened, they were blessed with a new great-grandchild, whose circumcision took place the following day with Nathan Werdiger as the sandek (godfather). Between the wedding and the circumcision, a busload of Werdiger family members also visited the Emunah Family Center in the capital's Givat Shapira for the dedication of the Werdiger Center for Jewish Family Studies. The Family Center is a project of Australian Emunah to which the Werdigers had previously contributed, but not on so large a scale. They were thrilled to see the names of several of their good friends on plaques around the building.
The three events resulted in reunions between families and friends, as many Australians living here came to one or more of the Werdiger festivities as well as to the sheva brachot in the week that followed the wedding. Several Werdiger relatives and in-laws also live here, and although there are more than enough family celebrations to afford them then opportunities to see each other quite frequently, the ongoing cycle of festivities gave impetus to closer contact.
At the Emunah event, Emunah world president Naomi Leibler, who is a friend of the Werdigers, extolled their generosity and hospitality. Before settling in Australia, Nathan Werdiger, whose wartime experiences severely impacted on his health, spent time in Switzerland recuperating. He looked so down and out at the time that strangers offered him money for food. He vowed then that he would never be a taker but a giver. Relatives in Melbourne took him into business, at which he was extremely successful, and he was happy to share part of his good fortune with worthwhile causes and needy individuals.
Nechama Werdiger who is the daughter of Rabbi Zalman Serebryanski, one of the founders in 1949 of Chabad in Australia, said that tzedaka, the Hebrew word for philanthropy, is usually translated as charity. In her family, they always remembered that the root of tzedaka is tzedek - which stands for justice, righteousness and fairness - and it was in this spirit they gave to those who have less. She was grateful that four generations of her family could be at all three celebrations.
There was also another family celebration that happened to coincide with all the other reasons that brought the Werdigers and their extended families together. Robbie Nossbaum, the father of the bride, celebrated both his Gregorian calendar and Jewish calendar birthdays during the week of the wedding.
IT WAS business as usual for Nava Barak almost immediately after her marriage to businessman Shalom Zinger, with whom she had been keeping company for some five years. Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who officiated, said that it was the first time that he'd married the offspring before marrying the parents. A few years back, he officiated at the marriage of a daughter of the bride. As for the bride, who happens to be the head of Elem, which cares for youth at risk, and is president of the Friends of the Rabin Medical Center - she didn't take a break from either.
She was almost immediately back in harness joining RMC CEO Dr. Eyran Halpern and Ofra Strauss, who chairs the Board of Directors of the Strauss Group, in launching a new volunteer project with two primary aims. One is to assist the Ethiopian community and the other is to increase road safety awareness. Strauss, who is involved with several volunteer projects, emphasized the importance of responsibility to the community and cited Barak as an example, noting that she has been an RMC volunteer for more than 10 years.
MEANWHILE THE wedding plans of Amitai Amir and Avital Trimbobler have been delayed until the bride-to-be turns 17. Their engagement party was held some six months ago in the home of the groom's parents Geula and Shlomo Amir. Among those present was a little boy who is the nephew of the groom and the half brother of the bride. Confused? The groom is the brother of Yigal Amir, the assassin of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the bride is the daughter of Larissa Trimbobler, who with her first husband used to visit Amir in prison. She later married Amir and the two produced a son.
IT DIDN'T seem to bother the overwhelming majority of guests that the reception that Irish Ambassador Michael Forbes hosted at his residence in Herzliya Pituah to say a last good-bye before returning to Ireland next week that the event fell on the Hebrew calendar date of the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day. Those who waited till the fast was over before making an appearance included Rabbi David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland, and his wife Sharon, who were most appreciative of the kosher canapÃ©s. Malcolm Gafson, who heads the Israel Ireland Friendship League, also came in after twilight.
C.B. Keinan, one of the first Irish immigrants and one of the pioneers of Kibbutz Lavi, where he still lives, sported a white kippa circled by shamrocks, which in theological terms ran contrary to Jewish beliefs, but then again other than a pint of Guinness, there's nothing more Irish than the shamrock and Keinan remains a proud Paddy.
There were a lot of hugs and tears as guests told Forbes how much he would be missed. Isaac Herzog, whose father and uncle were born in Ireland and whose grandfather was chief rabbi of Ireland before becoming chief rabbi of Israel, always makes a point of accepting the invitations of Irish ambassadors, even if it's to make a hit and run appearance - which it was. But his mother Aura Herzog and aunt Suzy Eban stayed for a longer period.
FORMER TEL Aviv University president Itamar Rabinovich was the guest speaker at the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association luncheon which attracted a large turnout. Rabinovich, chief negotiator with Syria under the late Yitzhak Rabin and ambassador in Washington from 1993 to 1996, was asked to speak on the topic of President Barack Obama's foreign policy and to determine whether "yes we can" also applies to the Middle East. According to Rabinovich "Obama is still an enigma" who "came into office with ideas on the Middle East, not all of which would be to our liking."
He explained that the US has to pursue an Arab-Israeli peace process in order to be successful in other aspects of Middle East policy. Rabinovich seemed to have made a study of who influences Obama and quoted Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, whose controversial book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy sparked allegations of unfettered anti-Semitism. Some of their opinions and declarations have cropped up in Obama's speeches, he observed.
Rabinovich also noted that Obama came into office determined to reverse the policies of his predecessor and to repair relations with the Islamic and Arab world. He also commented that Obama has persuaded himself that to be effective, he needs to distance the US from Israel. "It was not an accident that when he went to Egypt, he did not continue on to Israel."
For all the suspicions that American Jews and Israelis have about Obama, Rabinovich was cautiously optimistic that "yes we can" is applicable to the Middle East - "but slowly." He predicted that "the Obama administration will find out that the Middle East is not an area for a quick fix."
APROPOS IBCA, chairman Austen Science noted that while its luncheons had been one of the social and cultural highlights of the organization, several members could no longer afford to come and therefore serious thought is being given to other activities that will enable members to get together at a much smaller financial outlay.
PRIME MINISTER Binyamin Netanyahu's elder son Yair began his army service this week at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. Unlike his father, Yair will not join an elite commando unit, but after basic training will be assigned to the IDF Spokesman's Office. He may be the first rookie soldier to be accompanied by a bodyguard - not on the base itself, but coming and going between base and home.
He was also accompanied by a bodyguard to the Constantine Night Club in Jerusalem, where his high school class held its post-graduation celebrations, and a bodyguard kept him away from the prime minister's residence for a specified period two weeks ago, while mama and papa and some of Yair's closest friends organized a surprise party to celebrate his going into the army. Just before donning his uniform, Yair, his younger brother Avner and their mother Sarah spent a brief vacation in England.
FANS OF the Israel Broadcasting Authority's Ya'acov Achimeir, who like to listen to his early morning broadcasts on Reshet Bet, will probably not hear him next week because he, along with Nahum Barnea (Yediot Aharonot); Danny Rubinstein (Haaretz); Yoni Ben-Menahem (Israel Radio); and Palestinian journalists Muhammed Shaker Abdullah (Al-Kuds); Abed Arnaout (Al-Ayyam); Helda Erekat (Ma'an News Agency); Ahmed Hammad (PLC Radio); along with Felice Friedson of the American news agency The Media Line that specializes in Middle East coverage, will be in Rio de Janeiro attending the United Nations International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East.
Friedson, who is president of The Media Line, working out of Jerusalem and Ramallah, is also the founder of the Mideast Press Club which brings together Israeli and Palestinian journalists with a view to promoting professional cooperation. Friedson, who left this week for Brazil, was excited that her efforts are making a contribution to the seminar that opens on July 27.
The Israeli and Palestinian participants are not strangers to each other. They have met before at Mideast Press Club events and recently got together with Frederito Dauer of the Brazilian Embassy to discuss the seminar schedule. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians had high praise for Friedson's endeavors to provide a platform for dialogue with a view to achieving better understanding between journalists from both sides.
"This conference will allow the journalism infrastructure, represented by the leaders among its professionals, to be introspective and self-critical with an eye toward improving what we as journalists do and how it relates to public understanding of issues," said Friedson.
PARA EQUESTRIAN Amit Hasdai, 26, has been named Rider of the Year for 2009. A combat soldier in the Artillery Corps, Hasdai was seriously injured in 2002 and hovered for some time between life and death. Left paralyzed on his right side, he underwent extensive therapy with horses and proved himself an able rider. Now walking with crutches, he is training to represent the country in the 2012 Para Olympics. To compete, he needed a horse of his own and sufficient funding for maintenance and veterinarian care. The American-based Friends of the IDF along with the Association for the Well-being of Israeli Soldiers bought him a Dutch competitive horse and the two make a great team.
ACCORDING TO Jerusalem Post political correspondent Gil Hoffman, Likud MK Miri Regev, who waged a triumphant campaign against the proposed value added tax on fruit and vegetables, was being entirely altruistic. Apparently she's allergic to fruit.
ASIDE FROM being in the entertainment business, coping with psychological problems and having more than a mere brush with the law, another commonality between Assi Dayan and Dudu Topaz is that each has a bunch of children born to different mothers - and in Dayan's case there is allegedly yet another on the way to yet another mother.
One of Dayan's children was in the news last week. His daughter Amalia, the product of his marriage to Aharona Melkind, was listed as one of the world's top art collectors. Married three years ago to New York investor and art collector Adam Lindemann, Dayan, 36, was into art long before she met him. The couple grace the ARTnews list of 200 top collectors, which includes a large Jewish representation including Roman Abramovich, brothers Leonard and Ronald Lauder and their wives, Judy and Michael Ovitz, Marsha and Jeffrey Perelman, Eric de Rothschild, Charles Saatchi, Lily Safra, Judy and Michael Steinhardt, Anita and Poju Zabludowicz and more than three dozen others. Though born in Finland, Zabludowicz like Dayan is regarded as an Israeli expatriate. While she lives in New York where she runs a gallery, he lives in London where his wife Anita runs a gallery. His father Shlomo founded Soltam, one of the country's leading producers of defense equipment.
KOREAN AMBASSADOR Young Sam Ma is one of the table tennis judges at the Maccabiah Games. Table tennis is Korea's national sport, and Ma who is a member of the Herzliya Table Tennis Club plays a pretty mean game himself. Because he wants to enhance relations between Korea and Israel at all levels, he has persuaded Korean Airlines to take Israel's two best table tennis players to Korea for additional training during the summer so that they can do better at international competitions.
HONORARY CONSULS are not full diplomats, but they do enjoy some diplomatic perks and they get put on the guest lists of bona fide diplomats, enabling them to broaden their social and business circles. The new boy on the block among the country's honorary consuls is Nimrod Rinot who has been appointed honorary consul for Montenegro. Rinot, who was formally inducted at a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry, is a partner with business tycoon Yuli Ofer in CEE. Ofer is an honorary consul for Romania where he was born and where he has considerable business interests.