GUESS WHICH former member of the royal family came to Israel recently on a hush-hush visit.
Just one clue: She met Vice Premier Shimon Peres during one of his many trips abroad last year, and expressed an interest which he encouraged. And so, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, better known as Fergie, came to Israel for a 28-hour stay to take a close-up look at a peace and coexistence project between Jewish and Arab children.
In the course of her visit, Fergie met with Peres and with Yona Bartal, the deputy director-general of his office, and discussed the possibility of Fergie's involvement.
Her attitude was undeniably positive. It was her first visit to Israel, and she was pleasantly surprised to discover how beautiful, flourishing and friendly Israel is.
"Even your sun is more caressing," she said, and avowed that there is almost no relationship between the reality of Israel and the way that Israel is depicted in the media. Fergie promised to return at the end of the summer, and plans to bring with her British soccer star David Beckham and his wife, Victoria, with whom she is very close. The idea is to involve them in peace projects in the region. Peres welcomed Fergie's enthusiasm for Israel in general and for the Negev in particular.
PROTOCOL WAS not exactly the order of the day when Acting President Dalia Itzik hosted a state luncheon for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
There was the usual trumpet fanfare and the inspection of the military honor guard, but no hand-shaking with the long reception line waiting on the edge of the red carpet. Instead, Itzik took Ban for a tete-a-tete, and only later, in between courses, did she take him around the tables to say hello to everyone on a personal level.
Ordinarily, guests are not permitted to approach the presidential table, and are held back by security personnel. This time, security was much more relaxed, possibly because of the presence of so many members of the families of Israel's kidnapped and missing soldiers who each approached Ban and Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the UN, to make yet another appeal to bring their boys home.
Other guests took advantage of the flow of human traffic in the direction of the head table and followed suit. As it happened the luncheon coincided with Gillerman's birthday, and both Itzik and Ban made a point of congratulating him, though no-one thought to give him a birthday cake.
One of the happiest people among the guests was Korean Ambassador Shin Kak-Soo. After all, it's not all that long ago since Ban, in his capacity as South Korea's foreign minister, was his boss. Almost as happy was outgoing Chinese Ambassador Chen Yonglong, who used to be with China's mission to the United Nations and asked photographers to take a shot of him posing with Ban.
The caterer was left with his just desserts - not because he'd done anything wrong - in fact the food was excellent - but because of Ban's tight schedule. He had to leave soon after the main course, which was a signal for the singing of the national anthem, after which the overwhelming majority of guests disappeared, ignoring the invitation to stay and finish the meal.
Ban also visited Yad Vashem and Yad Sarah during his two-day stay in Israel.
SHIMON PERES is usually the guest of honor at the Baha'i New Year celebrations, and was scheduled to attend this year, but backed out at the last moment, sending in his stead Efrat Duvdevani, the director-general of the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee. Duvdevani said that on her way to the festivities, she had spoken to Peres, who in reference to the Baha'i community had told her that politics brings wars and faith brings hope. Baha'i, she said, speaks with the voice of dignity, respect and beauty.
Looking towards Pessah, Duvdevani noted that both the Jews and the Baha'is were celebrating Spring festivals symbolizing freedom, harmony and hope.
Many of the Baha'i volunteers mingling with the guests wore the national costumes of their respective countries, bringing color to the always colorful event to which members of the Baha'i community contribute by adding imaginative floral d cor to the entrance to the ballroom of Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel.
A former senior Foreign Ministry official told anyone who wanted to listen that the least the government of Israel could have done was to send another minister to stand in for Peres.
The Baha'i headquarters are in Haifa, noted the former official, but they are the only international body other than the Christian Embassy (which is located in Jerusalem) that hosts its celebration in the capital, and that fact deserves greater recognition.
Baha'i International Community Secretary-General Albert Lincoln announced that in April-May next year, 1,000 people representing 180 Baha'i communities world wide would come to Israel for a convention. He also expressed appreciation to a number of government ministries and to the Israel Lands Authority for ongoing cooperation with Baha'i projects.
IT'S NOT often that a prize winner has to sing for his supper, but composer, conductor, musician, choir master and occasional cantor Eli Jaffe somehow felt beholden.
Jaffe was one of several recipients of the Jerusalem Prize awarded by the National Religious publication B'Sheva in the course of last week's annual three-day Jerusalem Conference.
The prize was given in recognition of his contribution to Jewish music. Among other things, Jaffe is the choir master at Jerusalem's Great Synagogue, whose congregants showed up in force to wish him well.
Jaffe was also credited with reviving the teaching of cantorial music in Israel. Guests at the Regency Hotel, where the Jerusalem Conference was held, could enjoy Jaffe rehearsing the choir in the lobby prior to the awards ceremony.
The ever-modest Jaffe, who has not been spoilt by numerous awards, accolades and invitations to conduct major orchestras abroad, said there is no greater expression of holiness than music, and pointed out that just as Judaism is the older brother of Christianity, so Jewish liturgical music was and is the inspiration for the music of the church.
COASTAL PLAIN socialites had a problem deciding where to go last Friday. Many had received invitations to the showing of the Christian Lacroix Spring Summer collection at the Christian Lacroix boutique in Kikar Hamedina.
Some of the same people were also invited to view the new Gideon Oberson swimwear collection at a benefit show for Variety Israel at the trendy Tel Aviv Port; and there were also those who were invited to experience a sampling of Chinese culture at a WIZO event at the home of Chinese Ambassador Chen Yonglong and his wife Shuqin Liu.
For those who received invitations to all three events which happened to take place at more or less the same time, it was not an easy choice. Visitors to Christian Lacroix were treated to delicacies prepared by Jerusalem-based caterer Isaac Feingold, who used to run a well-known establishment in Jaffa.
They were then invited by store owners, Lucia Drommelschlager-Bohbut and Batya Harari, to tour the ground floor and basement showrooms and look at the garments which were being paraded inside and outside the premises by models, Mirit Levy and Vicka Schwartz.
French Ambassador Jean Michel Casa had indicated that he would there, but at the eleventh hour was unable to come, and sent his wife Isabelle, who in keeping with the occasion was sporting a Christian Lacroix scarf.
She was not the only one directly or indirectly promoting the famous French designer. Ruthie Ofer, who for years has been a walking advertisement for Lacroix, came dressed in a Lacroix suit and engaged in earnest conversation with area manager Nicolas Cano, who specially flew in from Paris, and although it was not yet noon, was wearing a pin-tucked dress shirt, albeit without tie.
The Variety event was also an opportunity to bid farewell to director-general Irit Perlman and to welcome her successor, Riki Ariel, who came with her significant other, Keshet CEO Yochanan Zangen.
Also present in the large crowd was Variety President Udi Angel, who took time out from his heavy-duty responsibilities with Ofer Brothers, the Israel Corporation and their various subsidiaries to attend the event.
The Chinese ambassador and his wife have graciously lent their home to a variety of organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life for the less fortunate. This time, they did so in the midst of a round of farewell receptions, though there is little doubt that Chen Yonglong will be back in Israel in another capacity.
GREEK AMBASSADOR Nicholas Zafiropoulos was realistic enough to anticipate that government ministers would be too pre-occupied with the visits of Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to have the time to attend his country's National Day celebrations, but he hadn't counted on the fact that those of his guests coming from Jerusalem would be nearly two hours late in arriving.
Traffic congestion both on the main highway and on the road from Tel Aviv to Kfar Shmaryahu caused many guests to apologize for their tardiness.
Among the last to arrive was a large group of Greek Orthodox priests. Greece declared its independence on March 25, 1821, so the ambassador was also a day late in hosting the celebrations in his palatial residence.
In an address of welcome to his guests, he referred to some of the strife which had beset his country over the centuries and said that Greece had gone through a learning process and was now working well with its Balkan neighbors and as a member of the EU.
Greece's relations with Israel were constantly improving on all levels, he said and Greece's economy, especially in the area of tourism, was on an upwards curve. Economic relations with Israel are likely to be further enhanced, the ambassador surmised, following the upcoming visit in June by Greece's deputy foreign minister, who will be bringing a business delegation to meet with Israeli counterparts.
IN AN immigrant country such as Israel, cross-cultural marriages are par for the course, so it was not unusual for Frumi Mazo, who originates from New York, to marry Chanan Shimon Chasidim, who is from Iran. There was a minor problem when the bride's grandparents, Shmuel and Connie Abramson, hosted sheva brahot for the newlyweds. Nearly all the Abramsons' friends are native English speakers, and the groom barely understands English at all.
The bride and members of her immediate family translated all the speeches for him, but some of the nuances were lost, such as when Rabbi Jay Karzen explained that when someone gets married, the "I" is replaced by "We." The proof of the pudding, he said, was that in the word wedding "We" comes before "I." Go translate that adequately into Hebrew.
ALTHOUGH JEWISH history is rife with anti-Semitism throughout the ages, there have been a number of enlightened Christians preaching tolerance who refused to become embroiled in hatred and bigotry, and courageously advocated on behalf of the Jews.
One such person was Guernsey-born Reverend Dr. James Parkes, who died in 1981 at the age of 85. Parkes, an Anglican minister, was an outspoken champion of the Jews, and one of the most remarkable figures in 20th-century British Christianity.
Prize-winning author and journalist Haim Chertok, who has written a biography of Parkes - He also spoke as a Jew, published in London by Vallentine Mitchell - recently returned to Israel following a speaking tour to promote the book.
Last week Chertok was honored by his good friends, Millie and Paul Rosenblatt of Haifa, who hosted a gala ecumenical luncheon at the Bayview Holiday Inn to celebrate the book's publication.
Among the 45 guests were Haifa Chief Rabbi She'ar-Yashuv Cohen, Honorary Consul for Papua-New Guinea Mary Clare Adam-Murvitz, and Primate of the Melchite (Greek Orthodox) Church in the Galilee, Archbishop Chacour.
The Bronx-born, Beersheba-based Chertok, who teaches English at Ben Gurion University and whose writings have appeared in The Jerusalem Post for more than 25 years, was actually inspired to write the book after he happened to drop in to the paper's editorial offices in 1997 to see if there were any interesting new books that he could review. He came across a collection of essays that had been published in celebration of the centenary of Parkes's birth and was reasonably certain that this book would not be of interest to other reviewers. Already familiar with Parkes from other readings, he learned more from the essays, and eventually decided to right an historical and moral wrong by writing a biography of Parkes. The research took several years, and as far as Chertok is aware, he is the first observant Jew to write an in-depth biography about a Christian cleric.
FROM THE standpoint of living history, one of the most important speakers at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya's three-day conference ushering in a series of functions that will mark the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War will be former MK Hanan Porat.
Scheduled to speak tomorrow, on the second day of the conference, Porat, who was evacuated from Kfar Etzion to Jerusalem on the eve of the War of Independence, was a paratrooper in the Six-Day War, and was among the forces that entered the Old City of Jerusalem (then in Jordanian hands) to bring about the reunification of the capital.
Later, he spearheaded the move to return to Kfar Etzion, where he now lives. Moshe Dayan, who was appointed defense minister just a few days prior to the outbreak of the war, and Yitzhak Rabin, who was chief of staff, will be represented by their daughters, Yael Dayan and Dalia Rabin-Pelosof.
The conference program does not appear to have any representative for Uzi Narkiss, who commanded the forces that captured the old city, nor for Chaim Herzog, whose broadcasts during the war were instrumental in calming the nation and boosting morale. In the case of Herzog, the absence of a representative on the opening day is understandable, given the fact that his family will be busy commemorating the tenth anniversary of his passing, but as the conference also deals with the implications and aftermath of the war, it's rather strange that one of the offspring of the man appointed as first military governor of Jerusalem and the West Bank won't represent him.
BECAUSE THE 40th anniversary of the Six Day War is so close in time to Israel Independence Day, this year's beacon lighters at the opening of Independence Day festivities on Mount Herzl will all be Jerusalemites who have been singled out for their achievements.
Among them will be Israel's fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, a native Jerusalemite, whose family roots in Jerusalem date back to 1670. Navon, who was active in the Arab affairs department of the Hagana, was subsequently a personal aide to Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, a diplomat, a parliamentarian and minister of education. He is currently the head of the National Authority for Ladino, and is also closely involved with the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. For Navon, the well-deserved honor will be a slightly belated birthday present.
Navon was born on April 9, 1921. He will light the beacon on April 24. His birthday, according to the Hebrew calendar is Rosh Hodesh Nissan, which according to Jewish tradition is the New Year for Kings. It is also the date that has been officially designated for the annual commemoration of deceased presidents and prime ministers.
A commemoration ceremony is held at Beit Hanassi where prizes are distributed by the president and the prime minister to individuals and educational facilities whose works are deemed to best reflect the lives and times of a particular leader selected by the Council for Commemorating Deceased Presidents and Prime Ministers.
This year, the council chose to specifically honor Chaim Herzog and David Ben-Gurion. Noting the presence of Navon along with members of the Herzog and Ben-Gurion families as well as Michal Yoffe, the daughter of Israel's seventh president, Ezer Weizman, Acting President Dalia Itzik, after reviewing the careers of five deceased presidents - Chaim Weizmann, Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Zalman Shazar, Chaim Herzog and Ezer Weizman - addressed Navon directly, saying: "I don't know of many leaders who earned as much esteem and affection from the public as you, and rightly so. I personally have great respect for you and also a personal debt. You were there at the start of my career. I not only respect you, I love you."