President Shimon Peres and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon believe that water may not only be a source of life but also a source of peace. Speaking at the annual Independence Day reception that he hosts for foreign diplomats, heads of churches and religious communities, Peres said that Israel, “which started out as a lost cause,” is willing to share its experience, its knowledge and its technology in the fields of food, water and energy with the rest of the Middle East. It is his hope that the Middle East, which is now in transition, will rid itself of poverty and violence and overcome its lack of resources in the same way Israel has by using its human potential to create more out of less.

It may take decades to understand the outcome of the Arab Spring, said Ayalon, who declared that 64 years ago the Jewish people experienced its own Spring. “No other people survived such a long exile with its attachment to homeland, language and culture intact,” he said, adding that the experiences that Israel has gained should serve as a platform for improving relations with its Arab neighbors.

Noting that this year’s Independence Day theme was “water, a source of life,” Ayalon said that water can serve the cause of peace.

Water is and always has been the key to life and sustainability, he said, adding that he hoped it would be “the key to peace and stability in our region.” Peres urged diplomats and clerics to make greater efforts in paving the path to peace. “Never in history has it been as important, as immediate and as demanded as today,” he said.

Peres tasked the leaders of diplomacy and religion to be “the navigators who bring us from known shores to the unknown horizons of the future.” He suggested that the world’s new agenda be science- based with the aim of getting more for less. As an example of this he instanced nanotechnology. “Scientists can have more and more from less and less,” he said.

As for the sharing of scientific and technological know-how, Peres opined that “goodwill is more forceful than power” and said that the goal must be how to reach understanding rather than to issue orders.

Though not oblivious to the risks in the current evolution of the Middle East, Peres, as always, was optimistic about the future, explaining that this is a transition period in which the older generation of leaders which was egotistical and power hungry is fading, while the young generation is more engaged with the world and doesn’t want to copy the parents’ generation.

“I’m sure the Middle East will change, but I hope that change will have as little bloodshed as possible,” said Peres, who condemned the killing of innocent people in Syria and elsewhere. He acknowledged that the trigger to peace in the Middle East would be the solution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, which he said could be “an immediate contribution to the pacification of the Middle East,” ultimately enable both Israel and the Arab states “to help all our children toward a better education and a better future.” He said that there is an erroneous belief that there has been no progress in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinians have embarked on many projects leading to selfsufficiency, he said, and the gap in the differences between Israel and the Palestinians is now very narrow. However, if Israel wants the process to move at a faster pace, “we have to be the initiators of peace every day, every time.”

■ DUTCH DJ Armin van Buuren, who has been named No. 1 in the prestigious DJ Mag top 100 poll four times in a row, performed at the mega Israel Independence Day party, BLU4DANCE, attended by some 10,000 people at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds last Friday.

Caspar Veldkamp, the trendy young ambassador of the Netherlands, was also there to congratulate the enthusiastic crowd on Israel’s 64th birthday. “Holland and Israel both love to party and Amsterdam and Tel Aviv are leading cities in the dance scene,” he said. “As the ambassador of Holland to Israel I am proud to present the innovative DJ from our innovative nation, Armin Van Buuren. Music connects people and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Israel is delighted to support this event, which connects people from both our countries.”

■ RECENTLY INSTALLED Israel Bonds president and CEO Izzy Tapoohi, whose temporary home is in New York but whose permanent home is in Jerusalem, was in the capital on official business during Independence Day Week.

Tapoohi led his first Israel Bonds delegation to Israel, making mini Bonds history by combining delegations from both North and South America.

In the past, the North Americans and South Americans came as two separate groups, but with Tapoohi in the lead, they came together.

In addition to meeting with all the usual political figures who speak to visiting delegations, the Israel Bonds group also got to meet with Google Israel executives. Tapoohi came to Israel Bonds from the world of hi-tech and he wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to demonstrate Israel’s hi-tech prowess.

■ THERE’S SOMETHING captivating about political, diplomatic and national security figures who play a musical instrument.

It seems to endear them more to the public. Bill Clinton has his saxophone, as does Yaacov Perry, the former head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s Security Agency). Defense Minister Ehud Barak used to make a point of playing the piano (though he hasn’t tickled the ivories in public in a while), and Minister for Regional Development Silvan Shalom plays guitar. Presumably several other politicians also have musical talents. With all this music floating around, no one should have been overly surprised at the Independence Day reception hosted in New York by Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Ron Prosor, who did what so many other prominent Israelis did this Independence Day and borrowed from the Beatles’ musings about being 64. No, he didn’t sing, he played trombone, and looked like he was having a really great time jazzing it up. In an address to the many diplomats, leaders of the New York Jewish community and some of the Israelis taking a bite out of the Big Apple, Prosor listed some of the great things done by the small country that he represents. Among the guests was US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, who has been vocal about both Iran and the situation in Syria.

■ VETERAN BROADCASTER Ya’acov Ahimeir, who received the Israel Prize for Communications, interviewed President Shimon Peres a few days prior to Independence Day for an Independence Day broadcast. After they had finished and Ahimeir was getting ready to leave, Peres said that he personally wanted to congratulate him and made some very complimentary remarks which Ahimeir found moving and somewhat embarrassing. In response, Ahimeir said to Peres that if he were sitting on one the panels that decided who should receive the Israel Prize, he would most assuredly give a life achievement award to Peres for all that he has done to benefit the state and the nation. Ahimeir expressed surprise that Peres had not yet been nominated.

“What are they waiting for?” he asked. To which 88-year-old Peres responded “I’m just at the beginning of my journey.”

Still, he has another year and two months left to complete his tenure as president, so he may become an Israel Prize laureate in 2014. Meanwhile, he’s being showered with other honors.

■ FOR RABBI Haim Druckman, who was also among the ten Israel Prize laureates this year, it was a memorable occasion not only because he was the recipient of Israel’s highest accolade, but because on the previous day the High Court of Justice had vindicated all the conversions that he had performed.

Druckman, who was previously head of the State Conversion Authority, became the subject of controversy in 2008 when the Rabbinical Supreme Court, headed by Rabbi Avraham Sherman, ruled that all the conversions performed by Druckman were invalid even though Druckman is an Orthodox rabbi. Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar found this unacceptable and said that he would appoint a special group of rabbinical judges to decide which if any of such conversions were invalid. The matter was brought to the High Court by two female converts who had lived for several years as Jews and who had raised their children as Jews.

Sherman’s ruling affected not only them, but hundreds of other people whose status was suddenly in limbo. Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who is also religiously observant, lambasted Sherman and his colleagues for making a retroactive ruling and causing so much distress.

■ TODAY IS the 152nd anniversary of Theodor Herzl’s birth. Because it’s not a milestone year, few people are making much of a big deal about the birth of the founder of the Zionist movement, who envisaged the creation of a state for the Jewish people – as perhaps distinct from a Jewish State – although he did in fact play with both expressions, though not necessarily with both interpretations.

Although this is not a milestone year for Herzl, it is for Knesset Member Moshe Gafni, whose birthday is May 5, which will be on Saturday, when according to the Gregorian calendar he will turn 60.

Gafni, who chairs the Knesset Finance Committee, prefers to observe the Hebrew calendar date of his birth, 9 Iyar, which fell yesterday. In honor of the occasion, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who tries so hard to cut back on expenditure, decided to be generous and presented Gafni with a birthday cake. The presentation was made to him at a session of the Finance Committee.

Steinitz wasn’t over-generous.

The cake was somewhat small, causing Steinitz to quip that “it’s just the right size so there won’t be enough for the hostile media.” In a more serious vein Steinitz said to Gafni: “You guided me in my first steps in the Knesset, and I want to thank you for over three years of cooperation, despite the disagreements.

Thank you for your sense of humor and your sharp mind.

We all appreciate you and wish you many more years in the Knesset, and that your wife should keep taking care of you – she does a good job!” “This is one of the nice moments in the Knesset where there isn’t coalition or opposition; there’s life,” said MK Ruhama Avraham-Balila. “The Finance Committee is blessed with a talented chairman. You achieved many successes, and I wish you many more productive years and good health.”

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who said that he had found out about the birthday at the last minute, put in a brief appearance and joked, “Today, every youngster in the Knesset is already 60 years old! I’ve known you almost 25 years. United Torah Judaism is privileged to have you, a brilliant politician. You have brought a lot of respect to the Knesset.” Gafni was genuinely surprised and, in thanking everyone for their good wishes, said that had he known in advance, he would not have allowed it. Perhaps not, but he enjoyed it anyway. Even though the cake was consumed, Gafni went home with something of substance.

Steinitz also presented him with a book, Invitation to Philosophy.

■ NOTWITHSTANDING THE fact that the three-week Indian Festival had already started last week, Indian Ambassador Navtej Singh Sarna hosted what he called an “opening reception” at his residence in Herzliya Pituah this week.

Among the guests were several members of Israel’s Indian community, with nearly all the women clad in exquisite saris in a variety of colors and textures.

There were also Indian expatriates such as Roly Horowitz, Linda Rifkind and her sister Ruth Rembaum, who used to live in Israel but now lives in Holland and is planning to move to England.

And of course there was restaurateur Reena Pushkarna, who is the unofficial Indian ambassador, helping the official ambassadors by providing Indian cuisine and, where necessary, introductions to Israeli dignitaries and prominent business people.

One of the tasks he set himself when he arrived in Israel a little over three years ago, said Sarna, was to celebrate India in Israel. He was happy that he had managed to persuade Teamwork Productions to produce the first Indian Festival last year. The company had initially been somewhat hesitant, Sarna acknowledged, but he had argued that Israel had the critical mass as well as a huge number of tourists who go to India plus a tremendous goodwill for India, and the upshot was a very successful festival which hopefully will become an annual tradition.

“Now we’re on the way,” he said, noting that this year’s festival is part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of India’s diplomatic ties with Israel. He is unsure how much longer he will be serving his country’s interests in Israel.

As far as ties between the two countries are concerned, Sarna said that there were manifestations of the bilateral relationship in all areas in which the embassy is involved.

At the political level, he noted, three Indian cabinet ministers had visited Israel within the last three months. National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, who recently visited India and who disclosed that his own daughter had been among the many Israelis who choose to visit India on completion of their compulsory army service, concurred with Sarna’s sentiments on the closeness of the relationship between the two countries. There is cooperation in defense, economics, agriculture, science and culture, he said. During his visit to India, he discussed water resources and reached the conclusion that the two countries have a lot to offer each other in water conservation and making maximum use of minimal water.

Landau said that relations between the two countries, both of which emerged from British colonial rule at approximately the same time, were getting increasingly closer not just at a government level but at people-to-people level.

■ WHO SAYS there are no free lunches? At the Jerusalem Women’s Conference organized by the local weekly Kol Ha’ir and in coordination with the Jerusalem Municipality and various organizations for the advancement of the status women, there was no participation fee and all those attending received goodie bags containing snacks, a notebook, a jewelry case and bits of literature. There was also a reception that included free wine and finger food and later a coffee break in which refreshments were also free of charge. Entertainment included a flamenco dancer plus three wonderful comedy sketches that had the women rolling with laughter. If there was a flaw, it was expressed by retired Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, who said she would have liked to have seen Arab and haredi representation in the two panel discussions.

There were a few Arab women in the audience, but no one who could really qualify as haredi – at least not by attire, although were some obviously Orthodox women.

Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, who described herself as a feminist who doesn’t burn bras, urged women at all levels of society to band together to restore security to the work place. Not so long ago, said Yacimovich, cleaning women, like everyone else on staff, were on a company’s payroll.

“You knew their names, they got sick leave when they weren’t well and maternity leave when they had babies.

And when they died all their co-workers went to their funerals.

Today you don’t know their names, and if they don’t turn up to work someone else whose name you don’t know will replace them tomorrow.”

Yacimovich considered this to be an unhealthy situation which could be amended only through a united stand. The event at the Mazya Theater Jerusalem was packed beyond belief. Pre-conference advertisements had asked people to register in advance but not everyone did, with the result that nearly twice as many people showed up as were expected, and there were simply were not enough seats in the auditorium. Not wanting to send anyone home frustrated, organizers allowed everyone in and let them sit on the stairs rather than miss out. No one seemed to mind.

■ SATIRIST writer and radio and television personality Dahn Ben-Amotz, when he knew that he was dying from cancer, gave himself a huge farewell party so that he could enjoy all the eulogies while he was still alive. Several years later, singer Benny Amdurski did the same when he was also dying of cancer and had a marvelous party at which he sang “I’m a guitar,” which Naomi Shemer, who likewise died of cancer, had written for him as a farewell gift.

Ben-Amotz and Amdurski came to mind this week following the enormous amount of media attention given to brilliant historian Benzion Netanyahu, who died on Monday at age 102.

Netanyahu, whose considerable achievements had been largely ignored or overlooked in Israel, though not abroad, finally received the appreciation and recognition due to him, but only his grieving family could derive any joy or comfort from it. Admittedly, the auditorium at the Begin Heritage Center was packed for Netanyahu’s 100th birthday two years ago, and he did get to hear several accolades, but none that compared with this week’s outpouring in which people who disagreed profoundly with his politics were finally able to bring themselves to hail his intellect and his scholarship.

■ THERE WAS a time when women were hesitant to reveal their ages, even though life supposedly began at 40.

Then came the era of redundancy when both men and women in their 40s and beyond were being laid off from work. But now it seems a lot of people in that age group and those considerably older are either finding jobs or are doing their own thing.

Case in point is the Hot Mamas, a new musical band of women in their 40s, all from English-speaking backgrounds, who, after testing the waters in Jerusalem and Netanya and getting favorable responses to their act, are preparing for two high-profile performances this month – the first at the Shablul Jazz Club in Tel Aviv on May 9 and the second at the Simta Theater in Old Jaffa on May 16.

The group comprises veteran vocalists Adina Feldman, Sandy Cash and Alona Cole, who have joined forces with internationally acclaimed jazz pianist Judy Lewis. Together they’ve created a sassy, inyour- face cabaret show that celebrates both the trials and triumphs of mature women who refuse to be Photoshopped, but who know how to get the best out of themselves, out of life and out of shopping.

Feldman was the one who started the ball rolling. A New York-trained singer, dancer, actress and choreographer who had performed in a successful series of one-woman shows, she decided that she wanted to do something new and began looking for partners to celebrate the feminine spirit in a manner with which other women could identify.

Folksinger and songwriter Cash, who has a professional background in theater and opera, was the first to join her. Then came Lewis, a classically- trained pianist who took a mid-life detour, establishing a second career fronting an internationally touring jazz band as well as a record label.

The quartet was completed by Cole, a versatile vocal stylist who won a recording contract with Sony records during an eight-year sojourn in Spain. Cole was teaching private voice students and doing the occasional role in musicals when the Hot Mamas changed her life. The Hot Mamas have put together a wide-ranging repertoire that caters to varied musical tastes, meaning that they have something for everyone. Collectively, they’ve embarked on new careers and serve as an example to other women in their age group that courage combined with confidence and curiosity can open new doors that lead to new horizons.

■ THOUGH ON a private visit to Israel last week at the invitation of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Uganda’s Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi still got to do what he would be doing if he was on an official visit. In addition to engaging in bilateral talks with Netanyahu, Mbabazi and his wife Jacqueline, who happens to be her country’s presidential advisor on special duties, had a meeting on Sunday with President Shimon Peres and presented him with a gift of traditional Ugandan art. They also went to Yad Vashem, where Mbabazi laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance.

At his meeting with Peres, Mbabazi, a lawyer by profession, said that other countries should intervene whenever people living in sovereign states are oppressed by their own governments.

Mbabazi told Peres that Uganda had taken a strong stand against genocide in Africa and had uprooted rebel leader Joseph Kony from the north.

Mbabazi’s visit to Israel was a follow-up to that of President Yoweri Musevenei, who came to Israel last November. Other than discussions on bilateral issues, they also had another reason for coming to Israel.

They’d been invited to the bar mitzva of the son of an Israeli businessman. While they were staying at the Dan Caesarea, before continuing on to Jerusalem they saw a familiar face, that of Gil Haskel, who is Israel’s ambassador to Uganda.

At Haskel’s suggestion they visited the electric power station in Gedera.

■ THOUSANDS OF shekels for young girls at risk were amassed at a WIZO Tel Aviv fund-raiser at the Tel Aviv Museum this week organized by Meira Drori, the chair of WIZO Tel Aviv. The stars of the festive event were singer Marina Maximillian Blumen and pianist Gil Shohat.

Among those attending were World WIZO President Tova Ben Dor, Chair of WIZO Israel Gila Oshrat and WIZO stalwart Janice Gillerman, who brought her husband Dan, one of Israel’s former and highly successful ambassadors to the United Nations.

greerfc@jpost.com

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