WHILE THE Israeli media was in a tailspin in its futile attempts to capture at least one decent frame of Hollywood film star Leonardo DiCaprio during his visit to Israel last week, Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres was effortlessly able to get DiCaprio to pose.
If the photographers were eager to get a shot of DiCaprio with Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli, with whom he has been romantically involved for quite some time, DiCaprio was no less eager to be snapped with Peres.
On Monday of last week, accompanied by Rafaeli, her father and her two brothers, DiCaprio visited Peres in his Tel Aviv office. At the conclusion of their meeting, DiCaprio asked to be added to the long list of dignitaries and famous people who have been photographed with Peres, and whose images, in some cases, are displayed in his office.
Yona Bartal, Peres's ever-present media adviser who has been with him for the past 12 years, rushed to do what the paparazzi were unable to do. Bartal, who is always equipped with a pocket camera, photographed Peres with DiCaprio, and then at DiCaprio's request, pictured Peres with Rafaeli.
The deputy director-general of the vice premier's office, Bartal was thus the only person who actually managed to take a good, clear photo of DiCaprio in Israel. She has added the photos taken that day to her collection of more than 3,000 photographs of Peres with world-famous personalities from every field of endeavor. Bartal also has photos of secret meetings conducted by Peres.
While they were chatting, Peres talked to DiCaprio about his proposed Peace Valley project which will be a joint venture between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians. DiCaprio in turn informed Peres that he was in the process of preparing a documentary on the quality of the environment. DiCaprio, known to be an environmental activist, also told Peres that he drives a pollution-free car.
DiCaprio showed great interest in the photographs in Peres's office, including the one that shows Peres receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Most of the shots on display were taken by Bartal, who says that Peres's greatness lies in the fact that he appeals to people of all ages and professions - "young people, world leaders, writers... and Hollywood film stars."
WHEN HE came to Israel three-and-a-half years ago, China's ambassador Chen Yonglong conveyed the impression that his English was minimal. However, it transpires that his English is quite good. Vice Prime Minister Peres let the cat out of the bag on Sunday evening at a reception which the Council for the Promotion of Israel-China Relations held in honor of Chen Yonglong and his wife, Shuqin Liu, prior to their return to China in April.
Peres was a little late in arriving, having come home from Japan earlier in the day to a meeting in Jerusalem with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and Defense Minister Frantisek Kasicky, before continuing on to Tel Aviv for the Israel-China reception.
Peres, in his capacity as honorary president of the Council for the Promotion of Israel-China Relations, expressed Israel's deep appreciation for the ambassador's contribution to diplomatic ties, and in waxing poetic about China, said that the 21st century is becoming known as the Chinese century.
Peres observed that some ambassadors come to Israel with high expectations of bringing about change, while others are modest and continue to surprise. Addressing the ambassador directly, Peres said: "You surprised us. You know how to cook, you know how to sing and make friends, and your English is better than you admit. You are modest like your country. The greatness of China is in its modesty."
Peres noted that China, the country with the largest population in the world, had escaped its poverty, "and will become the greatest economy." Not only had China emerged from its past, but it was now engaged in helping other countries, especially, Africa, said Peres. Making the point that Chinese culture is one of the oldest in the world, Peres attributed the creation of paper and print to the Chinese, adding that paper and print helped to spread knowledge and wisdom. The Chinese also invented gunpowder as a warning to their enemies to be careful, he said, and the compass - so that they could say to their friends: "We know where we're going."
Speaking fluent English without the benefit of notes, Chen said that he was not only ending his term in Israel, but also his diplomatic career. It was for this reason that he was particularly touched by the fact that the Council had a reception for him.
In 1990, he disclosed, two years before the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Israel, he had been a member of the Chinese mission to the United Nations.
Every year, the Chinese foreign minister would come to the UN, and in 1990 he asked Chen's opinion about entering into relations with Israel. Chen had replied that it was high time, but the minister said that this was not good enough. He asked Chen and his colleagues to write reports that would justify such a move.
Chen did just that, "and I was lucky enough to be sent here in my last post."
People often asked him what impressed him most about Israel, he said, and his answer was "the technology and the human resources. Israel is a country with which China has to have a good collaboration."
Chen said that although his official career was ending in Israel, his informal career would also start here. He is greatly enamored with the Peace Valley project, and intends to make it known to important decision-makers in China.
Quoting one of his favorite Chinese songs, Chen translated the lyrics: "If everyone contributes a piece of love, this world will become a wonderland."
His aim is to help make the Peace Valley a wonderland, he said. Disclosing that his background is really in economics and not in politics or diplomacy, Chen said that he would work to promote economic relations between China and Israel.
"For three-and-a-half years I introduced China to Israel. Now I will introduce Israel to China."
Chen said that he would work closely with Israel's ambassador-designate to China Amos Nadai, who is due to take up his post in August. The new Chinese ambassador will be Zhao Jun.
Two former Israel ambassadors to China were among those who came to wish Chen well. They were Council chairman Zev Sufot, who was Israel's first ambassador to China, and Yitzhak Shelef.
HE HAS not yet presented his credentials, but newly arrived Russian Ambassador Piotr Stegniy and his wife Margarita have already experienced a taste of the high life in Israel.
They were brought by socialite Raya Jaglom to the Friends of Gesher Theater's NIS 1,000-a-plate gala fund-raiser at the Tel Aviv Hilton, which really knocked itself out to do justice to the occasion.
Jaglom, who was very friendly with Stegniy's predecessor, Gennady Tarasov and his wife Elena, is paving the way for the Stegniys to meet the local Who's Who.
The totality of the event's success can be attributed to Ruthie Halperin, who worked like a dynamo to coordinate every detail, even to the extent of making last minute phone calls from hospital. Halperin's daughter gave birth two days prior to the gala, and Halperin managed to successfully combine the concerns of a mother and grandmother with those of an event organizer.
Jaglom was so impressed with her organizational skills that she donated NIS 100,000 to Gesher in honor of Halperin.
Gesher founder and artistic director Yevgeny Arye put together a sophisticated revue based on "The Devil in Moscow," which originally starred Haim Topol. However, Topol is currently touring Australia with "Fiddler on the Roof," so Russian-born opera singer Andrei Trifonov was brought in and delighted everyone.
Later there was a wave of community singing in Hebrew and Russian, and there were certainly enough Russian speakers, including the ambassador and members of his staff, to belt out the Russian songs with gusto.
IT'S RARE for a St Patrick's Day reception hosted by the Irish ambassador not to have at least one member of the Herzog family present. It's a matter of noblesse oblige, given that Chaim Herzog,
Israel's sixth president, was born in Ireland to a father who was chief rabbi of Ireland from 1921 to 1936.
Thus, when Irish Ambassador Michael Forbes sent out the invitations, the Herzog clan was definitely on the list. And representing the family this time was cabinet minister Isaac Herzog, though he could stay for only 15 minutes and missed out on a lot of the merry making.
As always, there was an Irish band that played almost non-stop while the Guinness flowed free and salmon lovers drooled over the high quality of the Irish smoked salmon, which differs greatly from Canadian and Norwegian salmon. Almost everyone sported something in green.
Forbes wore the striped green tie of an Irish football team. Irish-born Gillian Hart was swathed in a green feather boa and wore a green top hat with a band emblazoned "Ireland Forever."
Several men wore green vests or ties. One woman came in a green suit and British-born Brenda Katten, who heads the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association, in deference to the occasion was draped in a green pashmina.
Aside from that, self-adhesive, embroidered green shamrocks decorated the clothing of most of the guest including a cassocked priest. For those who missed out on getting a shamrock at the door, Malcolm Gafson, chairman of the Israel-Ireland Friendship League, seemed to have an endless supply.
Gafson, who is a tourist industry executive, made a point of introducing as many people as he could to Moshe Hajaj, the former marketing director of Arkia International who several years ago introduced direct flights between Tel Aviv and Dublin.
Gafson organized another Paddy's Day celebration that took place three days after the one hosted by Forbes with Trikotera, the Irish Dance Company giving a Riverdance style performance and Celtic Synergy performing live Irish music. The spirited event was held in a festive marquee adjacent to Murphy's Irish Pub on the Herzliya Pituah marina.
AT A celebration in the Tel Aviv premises of the Ministry for Immigrant Absorption, to mark the completion of a course for new immigrants jointly sponsored by the Absorption Ministry and EMI, the Israel Union for Performing Artists, aimed at enabling new immigrant actors and singers to integrate into the Israeli cultural and artistic scene, one of the teachers, Yoni Lucas, made an impassioned appeal for additional funds, pointing out that some of the newcomers had been big stars in their home countries. Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim, who had already spoken, was so impressed by the talent that he declared that he was exercising his right as minister to speak again. He would do everything in his power to come up with more financial resources, he pledged, but made the promise conditional on the "adoption" of each of the newcomers by Israeli performers, so that they could have someone permanently available to guide them and to introduce them to the right circles.
WHO SAYS you can't dance at two weddings at the same time? When Dina Dagan, the proprietor of the Biankini resort village on the Siesta Beach in the northern part of the Dead Sea area decided to celebrate the sixth anniversary of her enterprise in partnership with the World Federation of Moroccan Jews, the occasion extended itself to a rally of support for would-be Labor leader and former prime minister Ehud Barak. There was a good mix of Federation members and Barak's supporters.
Among those present at last weekend's festivities were Foundation chairman Sam Ben Chetrit, Prof. Shimon Sheetrit, Dr. Yehuda Lancry, MK Orit Noked and Ma'aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel.
Various people rose to sing Barak's praises, but the real singing was by courtesy of the Pirhei Yerushalayim Boys Choir which sang in both Hebrew and Yiddish at what was largely a Moroccan event. Dagan, who is a well-known personality in Israel's tourist industry, received a special citation in appreciation of her business initiative and her work for the community.
ONE WAY to guarantee a good attendance at an event is hold back-to-back functions at the same venue with more or less the same guest list. That's what happened this week when the Foreign Press Association and The Israel Project held consecutive events at Jerusalem's King David Hotel.
The Foreign Press Association had a background briefing with retired diplomat Uri Lubrani, which was followed by The Israel's Project's 90-minute Q&A session with Miri Eisin, the foreign press spokeswoman for the Prime Minister's Office. The latter invitation was reinforced with a free lunch.
Haifa-born Lubrani, 80, who in his time was an adviser to the foreign minister and then the prime minister, is currently one of the advisers to the defense minister.
His diplomatic posts included a four-year stint in Iran, where he served as Israel's ambassador from 1978 to 1982. He retained an abiding interest in Iran, and is widely considered to be one of Israel's leading experts on Iranian politics, policies, strategies and history. However, Lubrani is a very cautious man, who has no desire to be regarded as an expert, much less quoted as one.
Therefore, everything he had to say was strictly off the record. Under those circumstances, his presence, notwithstanding his erudition and his wonderful command of English, would not have excited much attention. In fact, before the start of the event, one FPA official mumbled: "I hope we get more than five people here."
As it happened, it was a full house, and even though it was off the record, most of those present took pages of notes. Lubrani happily answered numerous questions, while constantly reminding everyone that it was not for attribution. However as the time for the TIP session approached, the situation became a little embarrassing, with people exiting the room until there was hardly anyone left.
AS IT happened, they could have stayed to the end and not missed a thing because Eisin was caught in traffic and therefore arrived late. She spent most of the time fielding questions related to Israel's attitude to the Palestinian unity government, even though she had briefed many of the journalists present on the same issues over the past week and had been extensively reported in the international media.
One thing she would not talk about was the upcoming report of the Winograd Committee, explaining that people in her office were not supposed to respond in any way to the report prior to its publication.. There were also questions about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's lack of popularity, and his ability under the circumstances to conduct negotiations with Arab states. Eisin was instantly defensive, declaring that the prime minister of the State of Israel has a strong coalition, and manages the affairs of state by looking forward and not dwelling on the polls.
"He fully expects to remain in office until 2010 and will run again in the next elections," she said, adding: "The prime pinister enjoys his job. He sees that he takes Israel forward."
THE BRIDE and groom's parents flew into Israel from the US and Canada for the wedding of Josh Reinstein, director of the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus, to Rebekah Casey that was held at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, which sits almost on the border between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The wedding, presided over by CAC chairman MK Benny Elon, was attended by an array of Christian leaders, some half dozen MKs and Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yigal Amedi.
THE SERMON at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue was delivered last Saturday by Prof. Joseph Bodenheimer, the President of the Jerusalem College of Technology, which is known for its successful integration of Torah with scientific studies. Bodenheimer, who is a professor of physics, specializing in electro-optics, an inventor and researcher, is also a Torah scholar, who proved his mettle in more ways than one. It's one thing to be able to give a good interpretation of the portion of the week, but quite another to be heard from the pulpit of the spacious Great Synagogue on a day when microphones cannot be used. But Bodenheimer, a seasoned lecturer and teacher, knows how to project his voice, in addition to which he has a technique of constantly walking while he talks, enabling him to face every side of the congregation, thus ensuring that even the hard of hearing will absorb something of what he has to say. After the service, there was a Kiddush in Bodenheimer's honor.
The monthly Kiddush at the Great Synagogue is always a sumptuous affair with an abundance of salads, fish, meat, cholent and cakes. To ensure that congregants did not attack the food before the arrival of the guest of honor, the doors to the banquet hall were locked.
Frustrated early birds had to wait on the stairs. Nonetheless, the doors were opened before Bodenheimer arrived, and there was a stampede into the room as if food was going out of style.
Speaking in both Hebrew and English, Rabbi George Finkelstein, the congregation's director general, appealed to everyone to desist from eating until they had heard Kiddush.
He may just as well have been talking to the wall. Although there was more than enough food, people jostled one another to get to the tables and piled their plates, oblivious to his pleas. Not only that, once having done so, the majority did not move away from the tables to make room for those who had not yet partaken of the refreshments. They simply barred access to those people too polite to push. This is not a reflection on the Great Synagogue, but on society in general.
It happens at almost every buffet table, be it in a synagogue hall, in a hotel or in a ballroom. Although nearly four decades have passed since the publication of Portnoy's Complaint, the Jewish food scene remains unchanged.