A stars and stripes week

The Fourth of July was celebrated in style here in Israel, where the American ambassador hosted a bash at his official residence in Herzliya.

July 9, 2013 21:51
The annual 4th of July bash at the US ambassador's home

The annual 4th of July bash at the US ambassador's home370. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Independence Day receptions are usually two-hour affairs – but not so with the Americans. The starting time for arrivals listed on the invitation for the annual Fourth of July celebration at the residence of American Ambassador Dan Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher, was 5:45 p.m., with the event was due to conclude at 9.30 p.m. after the traditional fireworks display – but many of the guests arrived earlier and stayed longer.

It is easy to understand that first-time invitees, not knowing the exact procedure, would want to be on time, but even veterans who knew better showed up before 6.

Many ambassadors celebrate the national days of their countries in hotels or banquet halls, or even universities and kibbutzim. The Americans never do. Their celebration is always in the rear garden of the residence, where various sponsors set up bars for food and drink and other giveaways. There was a time when there were many more food bars, with at least two hotels participating in addition to fast food and catering outlets – but that was before the economic crisis. Even so, food was plentiful with a reasonably wide choice.

Unlike receptions hosted by other embassies, the American reception is the only one graced by both the president and the prime minister. President Shimon Peres traditionally attends the Queen’s Birthday and Bastille Day ceremonies hosted by the British and French ambassadors, but the prime minister does not. There are also more government ministers and MKs at the American reception than at any other – although in most cases, they don’t show up till 8 p.m. or later.

However, there were at least two MKs who were among the early birds waiting in the receiving line: United Torah Judaism’s Yisrael Eichler and Yesh Atid’s Dov Lipman, who for the first time in his life was attending a Fourth of July celebration as a non- American citizen. By law, Lipman, who was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, had to give up his American citizenship on becoming an MK. Also among the early birds was Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz.

Not all of the invitees were in the receiving line, but those who were had to wait 15 minutes or longer in the grueling humidity of Herzliya Pituah before the residence’s front door was opened. Those not in the receiving line went around the house to the rear area, but they too had a long wait, as each and every guest had to pass through security – which though efficiently handled, was time-consuming, due to the many people who were supposed to go inside the house in the separate queue.

There was some temporary relief for people in the line once they got inside the air-conditioned house, where Shapiro, his wife and senior embassy personnel were waiting to welcome them. But the relief only lasted for a few minutes, and once outside again, the humidity was unbearable – especially for religious male guests, who with the noted exception of ZAKA founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, all came in suits or traditional haredi garb – and spent much of the time mopping their faces, which constantly glistened with perspiration.

Lipman spent much of the time waving a plastic fan distributed by American Airlines.

While waiting in the house to personally meet the ambassador and his wife, guests had a chance to look at a photo display showing members of the Shapiro family with US President Barack Obama, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

A standard feature at the celebration is a giant video screen at the back of the rise in the lawn where the actual formalities take place. Video footage showed some of the guests being greeted by the ambassador and also panned the lawns for a couple of hours before the ceremony, giving anyone who was watching the opportunity to see who they recognized in the crowd. It was actually a very useful means of finding friends and acquaintances.

Even people who were not invited were able to join in the festivities by remote control.

The event marking the 237th American Independence Day was streamed directly from the residence for online viewing for anyone who was interested, and Shapiro, via his Facebook page, had invited people to watch.

Shapiro and his wife had just arrived home that week from a three-week vacation in the US, and were nicely refreshed – notwithstanding interviews that Shapiro had given earlier in the day to television Channels 2 and 10.

For the master of ceremonies, Deputy Chief of Mission Tom Goldberger, this was both a happy and sad occasion. On the one hand he was celebrating, on the other this was his last official duty in his role before taking up his new appointment in Baghdad, where he is unlikely to feel quite as comfortable as he was in Israel.

Before the official proceedings, guests were treated to background music by the Polyphony Quartet and members of the Israel Conservatory of Music, and a spirited singing performance by former New Yorker Bridgitte Raven, who interspersed her musical vocals with patter. In one instance, she mentioned that when asked to appear, she had asked who was going to be there. When she was told, “Bibi [Netanyahu],” she misheard and exclaimed, “Bieber? Justin Bieber? I’ll be there.”

Among the last guests to arrive before the formalities got underway were Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who unlike other guests was not satisfied with a few seconds of small talk, and engaged in a longish conversation with Shapiro. Another guest who arrived just ahead of the formalities was Efrat Duvdevani, director-general of the President’s Office, who came with her recently born baby.

As always, following the entrance of the official party, the formalities started with the presentation of the colors by the US Marine Corps Security Guard Detachment. “The Star- Spangled Banner” was sung by Ronnie Lawson, a member of the embassy staff, and “Hatikva” was sung by Ariel Kapach of Kfar Batya’s Amit Yeshiva. The two later shook hands with dignitaries on stage, and Kapach, a true product of the Middle East, kissed the fingers that had touched those of important people.

As frequently happens, depending on the nature of the event, Shapiro injected a lot of Hebrew into his address and quite a few quotes from Jewish scripture. Every time he said something in Hebrew, a grin of delighted approval registered on Netanyahu’s face.

In welcoming the official guests, Shapiro noted that Netanyahu “talks just like us.”

In praising American flexibility and tradition, Shapiro spoke of “our ability to change and remain faithful to the core of who we are.” Quoting Obama on Israel, he said, “People deserve to be free in a land of their own.” In his travels throughout Israel, Shapiro said that felt deeply and personally the bonds between Israeli society and the American people. He repeated the latter part of his address in Hebrew, and received an accolade from Netanyahu, who said spontaneously: “Good speech! That’s great!” Testing Shapiro’s fluency in Hebrew, Netanyahu, in talking about Israel’s pride in her democracy and vibrant institutions, said: “We are proud of our rambunctious parliament, where no punches are pulled.”Turning to Shapiro, he then asked: “How do you translate rambunctious? Dan?” This was one time when Shapiro’s excellent knowledge of Hebrew failed him. Netanyahu had to think for a moment himself and came up with tosess, though roesh might be closer to the mark.

Hinting that he’s hoping for another visit to Israel by Obama, Netanyahu said: “I want to add a request. [My wife] Sara and I would like to send not only warm greetings to the president but to First Lady Michelle Obama.

We’d like to see Michelle in Israel as well.”

In paying tribute to America, Netanyahu said: “The Fourth of July is more than an American holiday. It is a day that is celebrated by all those who cherish freedom around the world. It is a day that we honor the nation that has held the torch of liberty for 237 years. That Statue of Liberty shines not only in New York Harbor, not only in the United States of America, it shines around the world. Everybody sees America’s gift of freedom.

“This is the day we also salute the courage of America’s soldiers, who for nearly a century have answered the call of freedom and have defended freedom across the globe. It is a day when those who live in tyranny can dream of a future of liberty for their families and for their countries.

“In the Middle East today, there are many people who seek such a future. Those who seek liberty are our natural peace partners.

They also provide hope that the great turbulence which is rocking the Middle East today will ultimately result in a brighter future for all the peoples in our region.

“This will not happen overnight. But if real freedom ultimately takes root throughout the Middle East, a future of prosperity and peace will finally be realized for all. Until that day comes, America knows that in the Middle East there is one genuine democracy, one country that it can always count on – and that country is Israel.”

Gazing out at the crowd below, Peres said to Shapiro: “It looks as if you have the whole of Israel here.” He, too, spoke in glowing terms of America: “You were and you remain a beacon of hope for the values of freedom, peace and justice around the globe. You have shown that there is nothing more beneficial than friends, nothing more costly than animosities.”

Peres seldom makes a speech without including a direct or indirect call for the resumption of the peace process, and given the determination of Kerry towards this goal, it was in the cards that Peres would include it in his address.

“Peace is a moral call from our Torah,” he said. “It is also a political urgent need of our time. The defense and strategic relations between Israel and the United States of America have reached an unprecedented peak. We thank you. The importance of the cause of peace was emphasized by President Obama during his recent visit to Israel, and underscored by the mission of Secretary Kerry. It demonstrates that the two-state solution is accepted by the majority of the two peoples – Israelis and Palestinians. There is no realistic, peaceful alternative to the two-state solution.”

Other than the climatic conditions, the only things that marred an otherwise enjoyable evening were the needless harassment of an accredited photographer, and the general lack of respect for other people’s property. In regard to the latter, many of the guests who didn’t feel like standing around and chitchatting picnicked on the lawns, bringing with them various items from the different food outlets. The mess they left was beneath contempt. It would have been bad enough in a banquet hall where mess is par for the course on and under the table – but in the residence of the ambassador and his family, it was totally inexcusable. There were plenty of bins available in which to place garbage.

As far as the former, immediately after the event, the Foreign Press Association issued a protest stating it was shocked and appalled that the prime minister’s security detail stripsearched Samer Jallad, a cameraman who was providing pool coverage of the party for US-funded Al-Hurra TV. “We believe that he was targeted because he is Arab,” the FPA declared in its protest statement.

Jallad, who has covered the prime minister many times before, said he had registered with the Prime Minister’s Office ahead of time and arrived several hours before the celebration to ensure a smooth entry. Although he holds a GPO press card, he nonetheless was subjected to more than 15 minutes of hostile questioning, and ordered to take off his shoes and sit in the sun for more than half an hour. He was then taken to a closed room, where he was forced to remove his pants for a body inspection. In all, it took nearly 90 minutes before he was permitted to enter the event. His Israeli colleagues entered without incident.

■ IT IS customary for the US consul-general in Jerusalem to host a Fourth of July reception on the evening prior to the ambassador’s reception, because several invitees are on both lists – though there were considerably more members of the Palestinian community among the guests mingling at the reception held by Consul-General Michael Ratney.

The most prominent of the Palestinians was Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Dr.

Rami Hamdallah.

The Americans are good about acknowledging the contributions of their staff.

Shapiro did so at his reception and Ratney, who was celebrating Independence Day in Jerusalem for the first time, did likewise at his, saying: “Each of you are from backgrounds as diverse as this city, and all are working to advance our mission here and deepen our relationships with the people of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. The American Consulate-General has grown to be a very big operation indeed. Our colleagues are now at work every day building the relationships – political, economic, commercial – but most of all, the personal relationships that lie at the center of the US mission here.

“We have colleagues in USAID implementing hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance programs throughout the West Bank and Gaza, helping the Palestinian people build the state that they deserve. The US security coordinator and his team are helping the Palestinian Authority build security forces that the Palestinian people can depend upon and be proud of.

“Our staff here at the Consulate-General is just remarkable: Keeping us functioning, day in and day out; doing outreach to the press and public; keeping us all safe; and just as they have done for well over a century, looking after the interests of American citizens – of which there are now many thousands living in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza; and ensuring that Israelis and Palestinians alike can visit the United States; and helping us all discover each other, and know each other, and hopefully come to understand each other.

“And of course, the beating heart of our mission here is the search for peace. It’s what all of us are working towards. It’s a mission that has been embraced with passion by our Secretary of State, John Kerry, whose determination should be an inspiration to all of us.”

■ RATNEY ANNOUNCED that at the end of this month he will be celebrating his first anniversary in Jerusalem, and that he has the honor of being the 50th American diplomat to lead the consular mission since America established its presence here in 1857. That information is not entirely accurate, as an exhibit which opened last week at the capital’s National Library can attest. The first American consul to Jerusalem was Warder Cresson, who was appointed in 1844.

A controversial, somewhat eccentric personality, it was soon realized that Cresson was unsuitable for the position – and the appointment was rescinded while he was en route to Jerusalem. However, he continued to represent himself as consul and remained in the city for four years. During that time, he became enamored with Judaism, changed his name to Michael Boaz and eventually divorced his wife and converted.

When he returned to his home in Philadelphia, his ex-wife and children tried to have him declared insane so that he could no longer control his property. He appealed the case in court, arguing that a person who converts to another religion should not be regarded as insane, but that all people should be free to practice whatever religion they want. The famous trial, in which the decision of the lower court was overturned, set a precedent in the US legal system.

The position of consul, meanwhile, remained vacant for the next 13 years, with no one else appointed until 1857. A playlet on the trial, based on a radio play written forty years ago by Yaakov Shavit, was written and directed by Zvia Margaliot. It was performed last Friday by members of the Incubator ensemble, with Yitzhak Laor in the role of Cresson and Ram Mizrahi, Yinon Shazo, and Itamar Sharon as the lawyers and witnesses.

Cresson, or Boaz as he was known, returned to Jerusalem and after his death was buried on the Mount of Olives. Many people tried to find the grave over the years, without success. Then, about two months or so ago, an old burial society book came into the possession of the Mount of Olives Information Center. Soon afterwards, a young Christian from New Jersey by the name of Joel Baker turned up, saying that his great-grandfather had a brother who was buried in Jerusalem in 1861.

Cresson had remarried in Jerusalem, said Daniel Shani of the Mount of Olives Information Center, and the name of his wife was in the recently acquired burial society book.

The grave was located – and quite close to it was Cresson’s grave. Thus, Baker was able to return to America with a photograph of himself at the graveside.

Cresson was not the only controversial consul, said Nirit Shalev Khalifa, the cocurator of the exhibition. There were others, and there will be gallery talks about some of them. Dina Grossman, her co-curator, who represents the Shapell Manuscript Foundation collections from which all the documentation for the exhibition was taken, said Shapell is currently working on a project to trace all of the Jewish soldiers who fought in the American Civil War – and contrary to popular belief, there were thousands fighting on both sides.

■ EVEN PEOPLE who disagree with him politically acknowledge that Netanyahu is a first-rate public speaker with an impressive knowledge of the country and its history.

Therefore, it will be very interesting to see the end result of The Royal Tour of Israel, the prestigious televised tourism program made famous by journalist and producer Peter Greenberg, who accompanies monarchs, presidents and prime ministers on ‘guidebook’ tours of their respective countries.

Greenberg’s Royal Tour: Israel is scheduled to be aired on PBS later this year, and is expected to attract up to 3 million viewers.

Filming began a year ago with British-born Israeli cinematographer Guy Livneh, who is currently living in Los Angeles, responsible for the filming. Livneh is known for the Sundance Channel series On the Road in America, which featured high-profile statesman such as President Obama. He also filmed the powerful opening scenes for the award-winning film Monster, which starred Charlize Theron.

Netanyahu began filming Royal Tour: Israel a year ago, but had to stop after suffering a leg injury in a friendly football game. Filming recently resumed. The project, which is being held in cooperation with the Tourism Ministry, is obviously designed to promote tourism to Israel and to show aspects of the country that are markedly different from those seen by viewers in news segments about Israel. Among the locations Netanyahu has shown or will show Greenberg are Rosh Hanikra, Masada, the Dead Sea, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Eilat’s Timna Park and Dolphin Reef, Jerusalem’s holy sites, Tel Aviv’s nightlife, the antiquities of Caesarea, Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), the Negev, and more.

The prime minister will be explaining these Israeli variables in his Americanaccented English. During the first day of filming, Netanyahu, with his gift for languages, decided to give the project a Hebrew title – “B’Shvil Israel” – which has the double meaning of “for Israel” and “on the trail of Israel.”

■ THE ISRAEL-Ireland Friendship League always forms a special relationship with Irish ambassadors to Israel, and its chairman Malcolm Gafson and his wife, Leah, treat them like family. Wanting to show appreciation to Ambassador Breifne O’Reilly and his wife, Eavan Doyle, whose term of duty expires at the end of this month, the league – in cooperation with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund – decided to hold a tree-planting ceremony for them at the Yad Kennedy tree planting center in Jerusalem.

O’Reilly found this particularly meaningful because last month marked the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to his ancestral homeland. During the anniversary commemoration, extended members of the Kennedy family visited the family home in Wexford, where some of his distant relatives still live. Kennedy’s great-grandparents came to Boston from Ireland during the potato famine in the late 1840s.

The Kennedy Memorial was not the only symbolic aspect of the ceremony. Gafson noted that it had been 64 years since Ireland had granted de facto recognition to the State of Israel, 39 years since the exchange of ambassadors and 17 years since the first resident ambassador of Ireland had come to Israel. This added up to 120, which in Jewish tradition is a significant number in wishing someone long life.

Andy Michelson, head of protocol and ceremonies at KKL-JNF, also commented on the significance of Yad Kennedy, in that it is a place of inspiration in which one can reflect on the president’s inspiring words: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”

Sharing some of the history of the KKLJNF, Michelson said that 16 percent of Israel’s land belongs to it, and that since its establishment in 1901, more than 240 million trees have been planted. “It’s the only country in the world with more trees at the end of the 20th century than at the beginning,” he said, going on to talk about his organization’s contribution to the development of communities, and its building of more than 240 reservoirs for wastewater recycling. More than 50% of Israeli agriculture uses recycled wastewater, said Michelson.

Zvi Gabay, who was Israel’s first resident ambassador to Ireland and has continued to maintain his connections, observed that the Foreign Ministry had relaxed its sanctions with regard to a farewell luncheon for O’Reilly – and although he did not plant trees at the luncheon, he was given a certificate for 18 trees in his name.

Carole Goldberg, an Irish expat and a member of the KKL-JNF board of directors, said it was poignant for those born in Ireland to plant trees in the Jewish heartland. While they lived in Ireland, she recalled, they had placed coins in their Blue Boxes for purchase of land on which trees could be planted.

Their characters had been developed in Ireland, but their hearts were in the homeland of the Jewish people.

David Rosen, a former chief rabbi of Ireland, quoted Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai, who said: “If you hear the Messiah is coming and you have a sapling in your hand, go plant it before you greet the Messiah.”

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