It's not customary to applaud at wreath-laying ceremonies, but it is most definitely customary to applaud any successful effort to make peace, which is why when Mehmet Bozay, the deputy head of mission at the Turkish Embassy, joined in the official wreath-laying ceremony at the catafalque for the dedication of the Park of the Australian Soldier in Beersheba on Monday, the hundreds assembled broke into spontaneous applause.
This came as a result of remarks made earlier by Australian Governor-General Maj.-Gen. Michael Jeffery, who after describing in detail - as only a military man could - the October 1917 battle between the Australian Light Horse and the Turkish forces, noted that today Australia has "the warmest relations with former foes, which proves that those who fought and died here did not die in vain."
And of course, even though it was not mentioned, in the background was the knowledge that Turkey is acting as an important intermediary in the effort to renew peace negotiations between Israel and Syria. Caught pleasantly by surprise by the sustained applause, Bozay, before resuming his seat, moved in the direction of Jeffery and bowed.
The organization of the event, with its marvelous military overtones and Australian ex-servicemen in some cases wearing their uniforms and medals and in others a chestful of medals over a civilian jacket, was first class, marred only by the overzealous efforts of the security people to keep photographers and video camera teams behind a barricade which had been placed in a most disadvantageous position.
Although there were a few Israelis present, including President Shimon Peres and Diaspora Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, who was recently in Australia, it was by and large a very Australian affair, with Australian residents here, an Australian business delegation, Australian tourists, members of the Australian Defense Forces who are serving with UNTSO and MFO and veterans of various Light Horse units. There were also descendants of those who fought in the region in World Wars I and II and present Light Horsemen Frank McKerrow, who had a relative killed in action in Palestine, Michael Medvesky, Les Prince and Scott Rhodes sitting astride Israel Police horses alongside four mounted policeman.
A distinguished honor guard of the Australian Defense Forces added to the military ambience. Maj.-Gen. W. Digger James (ret.), the patron of the Australian Light Horse Association, and the association's president, Phil Chalker, who were here in October for the reenactment of the historic charge by the Australian Light Horse, came in their uniforms and medals.
James, who conceived of the idea of the Park of the Australian Soldier and mentioned it to Australian Jewish philanthropist Richard Pratt (whom he has known since Pratt was a toddler), was thrilled to see the realization of his dream. Pratt and his wife, Jeanne, who through the Pratt Foundation have supported and initiated many projects here, were happy in more ways than one. Pratt noted that both he and his wife were the offspring of immigrant Polish parents who had come to Australia just in time to escape the Holocaust.
"Australia gave us a home as refugees. Australia has been good to us and we wanted to express our pride as Australians as Jews and as friends to Israel," he said.
Explaining that since he was four, he had looked up to and admired Digger James, Pratt said the Light Horse was the inspiration for the park, which also contains a state of the art playground for developmentally disabled children.
"I wanted to do the Light Horse proud," he said as he surveyed the vast expanse of landscaped garden which will soon be beautified by flowers. Recalling that not so long ago, the area had been "a scruffy park," James said he thought the whole affair was "terrific" and what impressed him most was that everyone, adults and children alike, looked so happy.
Following the formal ceremony, Pratt hosted a huge Australian-style party, with plenty of beer and Australian folk songs. Among the many Australians who came from all over the country to attend the event were two senior staff members of the Prime Minister's Office, spokesman Mark Regev and Diaspora Affairs adviser Rachael Risby-Raz. Regev, who always says he's Israeli first, appeared to be very Australian on Monday.
SOUTH AFRICA would not presume to advise other countries on how to conduct their affairs, South African Ambassador Fumanekile Gqiba told guests at the 14th anniversary celebrations of South Africa's Freedom Day at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv, but he implied that it would not hurt for Israel and the Palestinians to learn from what South Africa has achieved.
Looking back at the painful years prior to 1994, Gqiba said that his country had made great strides since the end of apartheid.
"We have become victorious over the evils of injustice," he said, and emphasized that in the midst of the global economic crisis, South Africa prides itself on nine years of continuous economic growth.
"It is the largest economic upswing in our country's history," he said, with national income rising by 22 percent since 1999, and fixed investment increasing by 10% each year. South Africa's sustainable economy was based on a philosophy of develop through trade rather than aid, said Gqiba.
Declaring South Africa's belief in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Gqiba said that South Africa is not in the business of imposing solutions "But we want to share our experience," he said.
He advised the two sides to keep talking regardless of how bleak the situation, in the hope of establishing a point of convergence which will enable sustainable peace.
"It's a win-win solution," he promised, envisaging a future in which Israeli and Palestinian children can walk anywhere and in safety in the region.
"It will be a new dawn of sustainable peace in which the children of Abraham will stop slaughtering each other," he said. "In South Africa, we stopped being foolish and began accepting each other in the image of God."
National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer declared South Africa to be the most important leader on the African continent.
It was a rare occasion in which invitees actually kept quiet during the speeches, but not before Gqiba had beseeched their indulgence several times. There is something wrong with a society which eats and drinks at the lavish expense of the host, but lacks the respect and good manners to listen when he speaks. Gqiba is not the first ambassador, and presumably not the last to ask his guests to please be quiet and listen. In his case, he was fortunate. They actually took notice. Most of the time, such pleas go unheeded.
FOR SOME 15 to 20 minutes, organizers of the Mimouna festivities at Jerusalem's Great Synagogue last Saturday night looked somewhat concerned that the event might be a flop. It was timed to start at 9:30 p.m. and the guest of honor was President Shimon Peres.
However, at 9:30, only the organizers, a handful of invitees, a representative of the president's office and members of the media had arrived. Stragglers began drifting in very slowly and the phone calls between the venue and Beit Hanassi kept increasing, while Peres waited for an appropriate moment in which to arrive. It was obvious to the media that he would not come until the banquet hall was fairly full.
The event was coordinated by the umbrella group of of the Association of Sephardi Organizations whose chairman, Haim Cohen, seemed to be the least perturbed by the delay.
The urbane Cohen, who never looks ruffled, told news hounds who complained at the absence of moufletas, the traditional Mimouna fare, that if they were patient they would get their moufletas too, though he found it annoying that the more important traditions of Mimouna were overlooked because so many people were more conscious of moufletas than of anything else.
In previous years, the more formal Mimouna celebrations were held in Jerusalem hotels, where there were no moufletas because the hotels had to maintain the Passover menu for an additional day for tourists from abroad. However in a regular banquet hall, there was no problem with regard to preparing moufletas, and when Peres finally did arrive, he ate his share.
Among the guests was long-haired healer and mystic Oren Zarif, whose advertisements are saturated with photographs of him being hugged by grateful clients. Like most other guests, Zarif pushed forward to shake the hand of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar when he entered the hall, and again some time later to shake the hand of Peres.
Zarif had come without a kippa. Haim Maman, editor of Yerushalayim Shelanu, took one out of his pocket for Zarif to wear when he approached Amar. Zarif gave it back after the handshake. But later, he saw a better photo opportunity when Amar and Peres were already seated, and insinuated himself between the two of them, to add yet another prize to his photo collection.
On the way to wedging himself between the two, he passed Maman, who was also sitting at the head table, and swiped the kippa off his head so that he would not be embarrassed when he sat down next to Amar.
MANY ATTRACTIVE young women who dream of being fashion models somehow don't make it, and move on into middle age still nursing the dream. Some of those women were able to finally rid themselves of the frustration on Sunday, when they participated in a 30th anniversary benefit show for LO, the organization dedicated to combating violence against women.
Fashion designer Yaron Minkowski provided the clothes and 70 singers, actresses, past and present fashion models, former beauty queens and socialites paraded them on the runway. Some of the "models" found difficulty in walking in stiletto heels and took them off because their feet were killing them. Others were hamming it up and prancing along the runway. The exercise caused singer Josie Katz to lose her balance and fall. But Katz who has terrific reflexes, managed to land in a graceful position, then quickly picked herself up and continued as if nothing were amiss.
IN REVISIONIST and Betar circles there is a sense of vindication in this year's Holocaust Remembrance Day in that those of their members who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising will finally be acknowledged.
Among the people who have been laboring for some time to secure that acknowledgement and have it included in future ceremonies commemorating the uprising is former minister Moshe Arens, who has extensively researched the subject and who attended the unveiling of a plaque in Warsaw commemorating the heroism of Betar's Pawel Frankel, who was one of the fighting commanders in the ghetto. Betar heroism in the Warsaw Ghetto will be discussed by Arens and others at a memorial event taking place at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on Thursday, at 4:30 p.m.
FINDING SYMBOLIC meanings in occurrences is very Jewish, and it would be impossible for Rena Quint, child Holocaust survivor and president of the Jossi Berger Holocaust Study Center, not to find some degree of symbolism in the birth of her third great-grandchild, the second son of Odelia Chwat, the oldest of her 12 grandchildren, and her husband Udi Adler.
The infant, born during Pessah, is due to be formally welcomed into the faith on Thursday. His brit mila coincides with Holocaust Remembrance Day, and his birth is yet another symbolic proof that the Nazis failed in their objective to find a permanent solution for the Jewish problem.
Quint and her husband, Rabbi Emanuel Quint, are awaiting a fourth great-grandchild due somewhere close to Shavuot to their second grandchild, Moriah Chwat-Groner.
THERE'S NOTHING uniform about Israeli bureaucracy. For those who encounter it, there's the element of participating in a lottery. One might draw a power-hungry clerk who knows that he or she has the fate of another human being in his or her hand and delights in making life uncomfortable for that person; or one might be fortunate and get someone whose whole raison d'etre is solving other people's problems as quickly and efficiently as possible.
In swapping tales about aliya experiences, Raymond Apple, chief rabbi emeritus of the Great Synagogue of Sydney, recalled that when he and his wife came on aliya and went to apply for their identity cards, the clerk at the Interior Ministry looked at them suspiciously and demanded proof that they were Jewish. Apple who for some 30 years had been attesting to the Jewishness of Australians making aliya or wanting to get married outside their home state, was somewhat taken aback.
When he tried to explain his status to the clerk, she wasn't interested and told him to bring a letter confirming that he was Jewish. Apple initially dug his heels in and refused to comply, saying that if his Judaism was in doubt, so was the Judaism of all the people he had vouched for - and yet they had been given ID cards. The clerk didn't budge.
Apple tried another tack and suggested that she call Frank Stein, then the representative of the Zionist Federation of Australia in Israel, who could confirm that he was indeed Jewish. She told him she wasn't calling anyone, and if he didn't produce the letter, he wouldn't get the ID.
Apple had no choice but to yield, and wrote to the Sydney Beth Din, which wrote back on its letterhead declaring that Rabbi Raymond Apple was indeed halachically Jewish. They hadn't yet ordered new letterheads, so the printed list of dayanim down one side of the paper included Rabbi Raymond Apple.
The clerk was not sufficiently impressed to apologize or to even crack a joke. It's doubtful that she would have been impressed by the fact that Apple's wife Marian is the niece of the late Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Isser Yehuda Unterman.
FORMER DEPUTY defense minister Dalia Rabin-Pelossof has become a first-time grandmother. Her son, Jonathan Ben-Artzi, born of her first marriage, presented her with a granddaughter.
ONE OF the questions floating around in political circles is whether Nava Barak, the first wife of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, will change her political allegiance. Her significant other, businessman Shalom Zinger, has been seen in huddles with prominent Likud activists. It's not the first time that romance has stepped into the political arena. The late Amiram Nir, the first husband of Judy Shalom Nir Mozes and the father of three of her five children, was an ardent Labor activist and counterterrorism adviser to Shimon Peres.
When she married Silvan Shalom, an ardent Likudnik who became finance minister and subsequently foreign minister, she went on the campaign trail with him when he sought to protect his place on the Likud Knesset list and later when he competed against Binyamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau for the Likud leadership.
But of course one doesn't have to change one's political stripes just because one is married or involved in a romantic relationship. For all the years that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was in the Likud, his wife Aliza and their children remained staunch leftists and at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Now, they've met somewhere in the middle with Kadima.