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(photo credit: AP)
IT WAS a week of standing ovations. French President Nicolas Sarkozy received them almost everywhere he went during his brief but crowded visit to Israel; Quartet envoy Tony Blair was twice the recipient of a standing ovation at the Sheutifim Conference in Beit Yehoshua at which he was the keynote speaker; President Shimon Peres received several standing ovations from groups that he hosted at Beit Hanassi; Harvey Wolfe, the recipient of the Israel Goldstein Prize for Distinguished Leadership which is Keren Hayesod's highest honor, received three standing ovations, and political scientist Professor Yehezkel Dror, the most outspoken member of the Winograd Committee and the founding president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, was given a standing ovation at his 80th birthday party at Beit Avi Hai in Jerusalem.
"PEACE IS like love. You have to close your eyes in order to enjoy it," Peres told the World Conference of Keren Hayesod last Thursday. Addressing an overflow audience at Beit Hanassi, Peres reviewed Israel's 60 years of statehood in terms of challenge, change and achievements, comparing them in some instances to other parts of the world.
Change from a global perspective can be seen in the new proportions faced by nations, said Peres, citing Russia as an example. Although it is the world's largest country with a total area of almost 18 million kilometers, Russia has a declining population, said Peres, and has shrunk to less than 150 million. (When Russia dominated the former USSR, the total population was 289 million. But when all 15 member states of the USSR became independent of each other, Russia lost relatively little territory but a lot of people.)
To defend such a large stretch of land with a declining population becomes problematic, said Peres, especially when Russia has neighbors such as China, with an excess of population and not enough land, water or air, plus a disproportionate number of males. "There are 70 million bachelors in China."
Closer to home, he touched on Israel's oil producing neighbors, remarking that the rise in the cost of oil brings them billions of dollars. They become increasingly wealthy, but must remain ever wary of those who would want to deprive them of that wealth. Qatar, according to Peres, is a prime example. Qatar has a native population of 180,000 and 800,000 foreign workers. It is a member of the UN Security Council and supports Al-Jazeera to the tune of $300 million per annum. Qatar and other oil producing states are not gaining any extra territory, said Peres, and while oil is financing terrorism, oil states are equally vulnerable to terrorism and by financing it are endangering the security of their own countries.
Peres was both critical and regretful that the Arab states are not investing sufficiently in the region: "They invest in America. They would rather buy a City Bank than invest in the Dead Sea."
Turning to disproportion in Israel, Peres noted that a nation's budget is usually based on the size of its population and the size of its territory. But in Israel there are two budgeted areas in which this does not apply. "One is the military and the other is immigration. The military is not in proportion to the size of the land and the population but to the dangers we are facing. It's no secret that the dangers are larger than the land and the population."
Alluding to criticism regarding the volume of military expenditure, Peres said that people do not grasp that the IDF is "an unbelievable school of leadership" and creativity. The high tech industry for which Israel is famous was born out of security needs. "You cannot imagine high-tech in Israel without high tech army inventions."
Repeating his personal mantra that Israel must become a pilot plant or a laboratory for the world, based on the fact that its population isn't going to get much bigger and its territory, in the event of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, will become smaller, Peres said: "We have to be an innovative people with a small body and a big head."
KEREN HAYESOD was meeting at Beit Hanassi both to celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary and to honor Harvey Wolfe, a long time leader of the Canadian Jewish community. a former World Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal and a current member of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors and Jewish Agency Executive. Because he bears an uncanny resemblance to Avi Pazner, World Chairman of Keren Hayesod, the two refer to each other as "My twin brother."
Pazner, who rose to the podium to introduce Wolfe, could not refrain from heaping praise on Peres, who he said had restored prestige not only to his function but to Israel and its image abroad. "What you have done in one year is a revolution in the perception of our standing," he said. Pazner also referred to the "Tomorrow" conference hosted by Peres last month which brought an extraordinary number of high ranking international dignitaries to Israel. "Those of us who were at the conference came out prouder Jews and happier Israelis," he said.
THE EXTENT to which the Wolfe family is involved with Keren Hayesod and with Israel in general was evidenced by the fact that in addition to his wife Roslyn, a former chair of the Women's Division of the CJA, the Wolfe family - including three children and their spouses, and 10 grandchildren, whose names Wolfe listed - all came from Canada to witness the honor bestowed on him. Wolfe, who is very much concerned with Jewish continuity and who was active in the struggle for Soviet Jewry and in operations to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel, recalled having travelled with Peres to the latter's hometown in what is now Belarus and sitting on the floor talking to young Jews. He also recalled going with his wife to Theresienstadt, and seeing a magnificent maple tree, which surprisingly had been smuggled into the camp as a sapling by a German soldier on Tu B'Shvat according to one of the Theresienstadt survivors. The children in the camp had tended the sapling lovingly and it continued to thrive after many of them had been murdered. Wolfe and his wife took cuttings from the tree and planted them in Yad Vashem. Turning to his grandchildren, Wolfe imparted the legacy of motivation. "Wherever there are Jews in need - you will be there."
IN ADDITION to being world chairman of Keren Hayesod, Pazner is also a spokesman for Israel and a former Israel ambassador to France. However when The Israel Project, which releases the names of experts on binational or other political issues prior to the arrival in Israel of various dignitiaries, put out the pre-Sarkozy list, it included the name Yosh Amishav, former spokesman at the Israel Embassy in Paris, and currently communications and marketing director for Keren Hayesod, but not that of Pazner or his successors Prof. Eli Barnavi and Nissim Zvilli. For that matter, the list also excluded Ovadia Sofer, who was Israel's longest serving ambassador to France and is considered to be one of the greatest experts on Israel-France relations. So Pazner took the initiative and had his office send out an e-mail to journalists with both his office and cell phone numbers.
STATE DINNERS at Beit Hanassi are usually held in the large reception hall, but given the number of people on the guest list for the dinner in honor of Nicolas Sarkozy, the venue was moved into the garden area where there is considerably more space. Of the 250 guests, the French submitted 70 names for invitations.
When the architectural design contest for the official domain of the presidents of Israel was launched in the late 1960s, Israel's population was much smaller and there were fewer grandiose events. Compared to the hut which had been used by Israel's second president Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Beit Hanassi was an edifice of palatial grandeur and proportions. But it is now too small to hold the vast numbers of people who for one reason or another must be invited to specific events. This was already obvious during the terms of Ezer Weizman and Moshe Katsav who sought to expand the premises, given the fact that the building is surrounded by spacious grounds, but were denied a construction budget, and had to make do with a tent adjacent to the ballroom which is often used as a reception area prior to an official dinner. Occasionally another tent is put up against another wall in the reception area.
All this would be unnecessary if a budget was made available for the partial reconstruction of Beit Hanassi to suit existing needs. There are still 41 years until the lease expires on the land, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, so it would not be a waste of money to invest in Beit Hanassi by expanding the building at ground level or alternately building on the roof. It would certainly save the discomfort of numerous female guests who believe that appropriate attire for a visit to Beit Hanassi includes stiletto heeled shoes. Many a woman has lost her balance when her spike heels were caught in the soft earth beneath the grass.
The Sarkozy visit coincided with the 20th day of Sivan on the Hebrew calendar, which according to the Chabad news service is the anniversary of the first blood libel in France. On this date in 1171, tens of Jewish men and women were burned alive in the French town of Blois on the infamous accusation that Jews used the blood of Christian children in the preparation of matzot for Passover.
Even though she left the employ of the Government Press Office a couple of years back after 25 years as foreign media liaison, it seems that major events such as the Sarkozy visit needed the input of the ever calm and efficient Linda Rivkind, who was very much involved in media arrangements.
Also burning the midnight oil with regard the Sarkozy visit was Beit Hanassi media liaison Meital Jaslovitz, who was not only dealing with media enquiries and coverage, but also with last minutes changes in the schedule of the French president, and sending out e-mails with corrections and updates as late as half an hour after midnight on Saturday night as well as throughout the visit.
ON THE day of Sarkozy's arrival, while students from the Alliance School in Tel Aviv were busy rehearsing their presentation of Hallelujah under the guidance of deputy principal Zahava Weiman and Beit Hanassi senior staff - among them Efrat Duvdevani, Yona Bartal, Yoram Dori, Joseef Avi-Yair Engel, and Dalit Kool - other Beit Hanassi staffers, along with Alliance teachers and Foreign Ministry personnel were busy knotting ties that were later worn by the singers when they performed for France's first couple. The ties, held together by a half Windsor knot, bore abstract prints of the Israeli and French flags.
On the last day of the visit, Peres, after seeing the Sarkozys off at Ben Gurion Airport, barely had time for a pause that refreshes before turning his attention to another president - of Coca Cola.
SEEMINGLY SURPRISED by the sustained applause that he received at the Sheutufim Conference before even starting to speak, Tony Blair raised a laugh when he said that extreme left wing groups continue to demonstrate against him in London, shouting for him to go home. "I've gone already. I've gone," he tells them, but the remark apparently falls on deaf ears.
IN SOME Orthodox Jewish circles, when the last child in the family is married off, the Mazhinka dance is performed at the wedding where the mother dances with a broom, symbolically sweeping out the now empty nest. However at the Ramat Gan wedding of Hanni Schroeder to Dan Zamir, it was the bride and groom and some of their siblings who did the sweeping while both sets of parents sat across from each other in the dance area. The groom, who is a Chabadnik and a professional musician, serenaded his bride by singing to her and playing his saxophone with the back-up of his jazz band. Usually at segregated weddings, the women can be seen peeking into the men's section because the dancing there is more lively. In this case it was the other way around, and the women dancers proved to be not only livelier but more talented. The groom is the son of Ruth and Shmuel Zamir and the bride the daughter of Barbara and Gerald Schroeder. The mother of the bride is better known to Jerusalem Post readers as columnist Barbara Sofer, while the father of the bride, a world acclaimed scientist and prolific author, is best known for his book Genesis and the Big Bang. He is currently working on another book.
OPENINGS OF new restaurants usually encompass trays of finger food which quickly run out, and glasses of wine and soft drinks, but no hard liquor. This was not the case when veteran restaurateurs Aviva and Yossi Neeman, together with their partner and general manager Itzik Danieli, opened their new glatt kosher restaurant in down-town Jerusalem on the site of what was once the address of a popular travel agency. The reason that they decided to open a glatt kosher gourmet restaurant in what is rapidly becoming the Soho of the capital is that hand in hand with the revitalization of down town Jerusalem as a business and residential area, there is an increasing need to provide for clientele whose observance of the dietary laws is very strict. The restaurant is called after the Neemans' granddaughter Noya, whose parents are Rachela and Ofer Neeman. The kashrut standards were set by Rabbi Daniel Biton, who came to give a lesson in religious texts to all the well-wishers before putting up the mezuzah. As he concluded the blessing, there was a hearty chorus of "Amen" from the large representation of the Neeman family and their friends, and waiters and waitresses started bringing out endless plates of just about everything on the menu. Chef Genadi Nazia, who has worked in some of the capital's finest restaurants, was very pleased to see how eagerly the food was wolfed down.
Among the guests were lawyer Ovadia Gabbay, Aron Cohen, a branch manager for Bank Discount and his wife Lily who is a retired bank manager; Mimi and Dotan Sheikh, Miriam Ben Hamo, Ravit and Meir Doga, Kuti Fondaminski, Fanny and Buki Neeman, Shimon Hai, Chaim and Becky Ohev Zion, Rikki and Rafi Basscon, Kobi and Yehuda Neeman, and Meir Rosenthal who is an aide to Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger. Looking at the decorative floor tiles, Aviva Neeman said that they reminded her of the pattern on the floor of her grandmother's house in Meknes, Morocco. Although food and drink were flowing freely, one of the guests, Moti Candi, absolutely insisted on paying NIS50 for a bottle of soft drink, so that he could have the restaurant's first receipt and also be a good luck symbol for future profitability.
AFTER A series of failed relationships, former Likud MK Gila Gamliel has finally discovered Mr. Right with whom she plans to stand under the wedding canopy some time in September. Previously linked with Sagiv Asulin, aspiring politician and former head of the National Students Union, Amir Turgeman, well-known Jerusalem businessman and former restaurateur and actor Gili Cohen who recently married actress Moran Gross, Gamliel who is a superb dancer and has displayed spectacular salsa talent, could have become an entertainer, but after her departure from the Knesset chose instead to study law, which is how she met her future husband Hovev Damari, a fellow law student 10 years her junior.
MEANWHILE THE daughter and grand-daughter of former MKs is expecting her first child. Noa (Ben Artzi) Rotman and her husband Eldad are about to present Dalia Rabin, former MK and former deputy defense minister, with her third grandchild. Rabin's son Jonathan Ben Artzi has already presented her with a grandson and a granddaughter. The expectant parents are keeping the matter as private as possible under the circumstances. While it is impossible to hide the expectant mother's condition, both she and her husband are not saying when she's due to give birth, nor whether the infant will be a boy or a girl.
DESPITE VARIOUS allegations of misconduct which could lead to imprisonment, former president Moshe Katsav still has a strong following in Kiryat Malachi where he and several members of his family live. The Katsavs turned out in force to celebrate the wedding of Katzav's long-time driver Moshe Gabai and Reut Epstein, which also proved to be a reunion for several staff members who had worked at Beit Hanassi during Katsav's tenure.
WHAT DO media analyst Marvin Kalb, who was recently in Israel to receive the Robert St John Chair at Ben Gurion University, and Israeli born actress Natalie Portman have in common? Well, there's the screen for one thing, though he favors the small and she the big. But they also share a birthday date - June 9. He turned 78 and she turned 27 this year. Former US Defense Secretary Robert McNamaras was also born on June 9. He turned 92. All three also support Barack Obama in his quest for the US presidency.
FORMER CHIEF of Protocol at the Foreign Ministry, and before that Israel's first ambassador to Poland following the resumption of diplomatic relations after a long freeze, Polish-born Mordechai Paltzur has been elected chairman of the Research Institute of the World Jewish Congress, under whose auspices the Israel Council on Foreign Relations operates. The ICFR, made up largely of retired Israeli diplomats, has Laurence Weinbaum as its executive director and editor in chief of its publications. Paltzur succeeds former ambassador Moredchai Arbell, who is well known for his outstanding contribution to scholarship on the Jews of the Caribbean.
IN ISRAEL, where invitations sometimes arrive in the mail after an event has already taken place, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jun is getting in early by notifying invitees to expect an invitation to watch the opening in August of the Olympic Games on large screens that will be set up in his garden.