FEW PEOPLE involved in ecumenical affairs, especially those between Jerusalem and Rome, would be surprised if Rabbi David Rosen were one day to be appointed Israel's ambassador to the Vatican. Rosen is currently the American Jewish Committee's Jerusalem-based International Director of Inter-religious Relations and President of the International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Consultations. He also serves on The Permanent Bilateral Commission of the State of Israel and the Holy See which negotiated the normalization of relations between the two. In addition, he holds the presidency of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, an all-encompassing world interfaith body. He obviously would not have too much competition with regard to qualifications. Although the Foreign Ministry is unlikely to prevail upon him in the near future, the Vatican is eager to demonstrate its appreciation for his efforts towards reconciliation and is conferring upon him the papal award, Knight Commander of St. Gregory the Great. The presentation will be made on behalf of the Pontiff by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Religious Relations with the Jews. Kasper and Rosen see each other quite frequently, but probably not as much as in the period October-November 2005. Last week, Rosen was in Rome to join in the 40th anniversary celebrations of Nostra Aetate. This week Kasper is in Israel on a reciprocal visit to participate in a series of conferences and symposia on the impact of Nostra Aetate on Jewish-Catholic relations, as well as to install Rosen with his knighthood and to present him with the Mount Zion Award for 2005.
THE APOSTOLIC Nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, did not travel to Rome for the 40th anniversary celebrations. He watched them on television, he told The Jerusalem Post. Sambi had a special reason for remaining in Israel. He had promised to open the Jerusalem Theater sculpture exhibition of French sculptress Sabine Sarah Metoudi, who signs herself S. Sarah. The exhibition was accompanied by mounted placards reflecting the artist's philosophy on life in general and on each work in particular. The text was in French, English and Hebrew. Scholar that he is, Sambi did not confine himself to perfunctory remarks, but did his homework and analyzed the philosophy behind the art. Even before delivering his oration, Sambi could be seen enthusing to other visitors to the exhibition about individual works and the thoughts that motivated them. "She conveys a message of serenity and harmony," he said.
One of six siblings, the artist was abandoned by her father when she was 11 and had a difficult childhood that is to some extent reflected in her work, which strives to express universal values. Sambi was especially touched by her tribute to Pope John Paul II, whose visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem was in her perspective a turning point in relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews. An exponent of the decorative arts, S. Sarah, a deeply committed Zionist, took up sculpture in 1993, when her family in France was unwilling to move to Israel. She does her sculpting in her studio in Paris, then comes to have her works cast in bronze at a foundry in Tel Aviv. "I live in Paris where my family is," she says, "but prefer Israel where my heart is."
Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Yigal Amedi, who holds the city's cultural portfolio, told the artist: "I know it was your dream to exhibit in Jerusalem. I hope you can fulfill your other dream to live here and create here."
IT'S FAIRLY common knowledge that President Moshe Katsav, whom the Arab community recognizes as their closest ally in the Israeli hierarchy, will be celebrating his 60th birthday on December 5. At the Iftar dinner Katsav hosted for Arab notables this week, Sheikh Abdallah Nimr Darwish made a point of blessing him during Ramadan on his upcoming birthday, but was mistaken about the date, repeating several times that it was on December 25. Obviously, he had him confused with someone else. The late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was born on December 25. Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of his assassination.
TOWARDS THE end of next week, foreign dignitaries will begin arriving in droves to participate in events commemorating the 10th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Even though he is long out of office, former US president Bill Clinton, whose meaningful "Shalom Haver" eulogy is embedded in the psyche of the nation, is likely to excite more media interest than other notables. The reason: Clinton will be in Israel not only to pay tribute to Rabin, but to participate in a gala fundraiser for Beit Issie Shapiro, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. For the benefit of those who may not know, BIS has done extraordinary work in caring for special needs children with developmental disabilities, enabling them to reach undreamed of potential. BIS also concerns itself with the well-being of the families of such children and is in the fortunate position of having among its supporters US real estate tycoon and philanthropist Eddie Trump, who is also the owner and president of Elite Models, one of the largest and most important modeling agencies in the world. It just so happens that Trump is also Chairman of the Board of the American Friends of BIS, in which capacity he will host Clinton at a Hollywood-style, $2,000 a plate Silver Ball in Jerusalem's Binyanei Hauma on Sunday, November 13. Also flying in for the occasion is Israeli expatriate actress Mili Avital, who has been involved with BIS for several years. The entertainment line-up includes singers Shiri Maimon and Miri Mesika. The business community, led by Bank Hapoalim, will guarantee the success of the event and the paparazzi will have a field day photographing Who's Who in Israel. At BIS when they say, "Shalom Haver" to Clinton, it won't be farewell, but a very warm hello.
FRIENDSHIP IS often tested by what people are prepared to do for each other. MK Gila Finkelstein and Toby Willig, a former national president of Emunah in America and a great Emunah activist in Israel since her aliya more than a decade ago, are long-time friends who speak to each other several times a week on the phone but especially on Fridays to wish each other Shabbat Shalom. When Willig hosted a Sheva Brachot luncheon this week in honor of the marriage of her granddaughter, Channa Koenisburg, to Yehoshua Chernofsky, she naturally invited Finkelstein. As luck would have it, the luncheon coincided with the opening session of the Knesset. Not an easy choice, but Finkelstein put friendship ahead of politics, showed up at the Shimon Hatzaddik synagogue where the luncheon was held, made an impassioned speech on behalf of the incarcerated youth who had protested the evacuation from Gush Katif, and called them "the leaders of tomorrow." She then apologized that she had another commitment and drove off to the Knesset.
THE JERUSALEM skyline is now graced with a new piece of sculpture - Golden Ratio Jerusalem, by distinguished Australian sculptor Andrew Rogers. The installation, adjacent to Teddy Stadium, was commissioned by The New Jerusalem Foundation and is part of a world-wide "Rhythms of Life" project on which Rogers has been working for 18 years. Even though his works appear in major private and public collections in many countries around the globe, the smiling Rogers remains casual, affable, unassuming and easily approachable. At a modest ceremony to mark the completion of the Jerusalem phase of the project, Rogers - who was a successful businessman in Melbourne before turning to sculpture in 1988 - recalled that he started coming to Israel in 1964 and was a member of the first student mission from Australia. During that first visit, he met with Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben Gurion, who urged him to go to the Arava Desert. This he did and continued to do so many times, currently with a CNN reporter who is following him around the world to document his work. His geoglyphs in the Arava Desert, along with those in the Atacama Desert in Chile, have excited international attention. As for his latest Jerusalem work, said Rogers on the eve of his departure to Sri Lanka: "It's not just the application of a skill - it's an affair of the heart."
OVER THE coming year, music lovers around the world will be celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Internationally acclaimed Russian-born violinist Maxim Vengerov got in early, along with a Swiss Chamber Quartet sponsored by UBS, the largest banking concern in Switzerland. The Mozart performance was not in a regular concert hall, but at the Nordiya Mediterranean Towers retirement village, where most of the highly appreciative audience - including the virtuoso's 92-year-old grandfather, who was there as a guest - were aged 80 years and upwards. Many of Vengerov's relatives live in Israel and some 20 of them came to hear him play. Vengerov, who has become accustomed to thunderous ovations, was nonetheless particularly moved by the reception he received from the senior citizens, one of whom was Yoella Drori, also a violinist, who forsook her talent for 30 years and resumed playing only after her retirement. While they were chatting, the two discovered that they use the same expert to repair the strings of their violins.
JUST AS he has hosted receptions for previous Israeli Nobel Prize laureates, President Moshe Katsav plans to host a reception for Robert Aumann, but it was another Aumann, the prize-winner's older brother, who occupied Katsav's attention this week. Retired diplomat Moshe Aumann, who is an expert on Jewish-Christian relations, as well as on land ownership in Palestine from 1880 to 1948, came to present the president with a copy of his book, Conflict and Connection: The Jewish-Christian-Israel Triangle, in advance of Katsav's upcoming official visit to the Vatican. Katsav became so engrossed in their conversation that he told Aumann he would like to speak to him again before he travels to Rome. Aumann is best known to the wider public for Chronicles - a defunct newspaper that he co-edited with Israel Eldad. Presented in proper newspaper format before it was bound into books, Chronicles was sold at newsstands. Aumann recalled this week that a tourist staying at the King David Hotel caught sight of a headline about the construction of the Temple and thought that Israel was already building the Third Temple. It took a while for her to grasp that the "news" she was reading wasn't current.
MEANWHILE, SWEDISH Ambassador Robert Rydberg has invited all living Israeli Nobel laureates to a reception in Robert Aumann's honor that will be held at the Hebrew University next week. Ordinarily, Rydberg would have hosted the event in his home after Aumann's return from the awards ceremony. But the Hebrew University, wanting to capitalize on the fact that Aumann is one of theirs, asked that the reception be brought forward to coincide with the meetings of the University's Board of Governors. Noblesse oblige.
IT'S JUST as well that Austrian Ambassador Kurt Hengl is an optimist with a sense of humor and no obvious hang-ups. Otherwise he might think that he's jinxed. It is customary for a minister of the government to attend national day receptions hosted by heads of foreign missions so as to convey the greetings of the government. Last year, no member of the government attended because Austria's national day on October 26 coincided with the Knesset vote on disengagement from Gaza. This year, no minister was available and a senior member of the Foreign Ministry delivered a message from Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. The microphone kept fading on Hengl, so that very little of what he said was heard by the majority of the guests congregating in his garden. To make matters worse, his colleague, Hungarian Ambassador Andras Gyenge, chose to hold his national day reception on the same date (that's what happens when you no longer have an Austro-Hungarian Empire), and on top of all that, the terrorist attack in Hadera on the same date cast a pall over both receptions. Furthermore, the Israel Contemporary String Quartet's renditions of the Austrian, Israeli and EU anthems were so untraditional that the crowd ignored them and instead of standing to attention as is usually the case, continued to talk. Hengl took it all in his stride, even though it was the 50th anniversary of the departure of all foreign forces from Austrian soil. When the microphone proved dysfunctional he remarked: "We all know that after Silicon Valley, Israel has the greatest technology. This is just an exception." He was particularly upbeat about next year when Austria takes over the rotating presidency of the EU which will give it a more influential role in the Middle East peace process, and celebrates the 250th birthday of Mozart, the 150th birthday of Freud and 50 years of diplomatic relations with Israel. These three celebrations will result in a series of memorable bilateral events. One of the highlights of the Austrian reception was a breathtaking exhibition of the magnificent Swarowski crystals, and each of the female guests was presented with a Swarowski pendant as a gift.
THE HUNGARIAN reception hosted by Gyenge was also in the nature of a house-warming. The ambassador decided he needed premises that were a little more spacious and impressive than those occupied by his predecessors and relocated into a magnificent, palatial house with lots of room to move around in, both inside and out. Many guests commented on the beauty of the new residence. In the previous abode, guests had to be careful not to fall into the pool. Here the pool is fenced off and surrounded by a wide patio on one side and expansive gardens with lots of trees and shrubs on the other. The owner of the house is obviously religious. There were mezuzot on every door post. Hungary's national day commemorates the 1956 failed uprising, when Hungarians demanded democracy and freedom and acted in what was then an unprecedented manner in Communist Europe. While the free world expressed sympathy, said Gyenge, it did not extend help to the freedom fighters. Though the fighters did not succeed in their goal, their struggle at least showed the world that behind the Iron Curtain people in all East European countries wanted freedom, said Gyenge. Hungary finally regained its sovereignty in 1989 and re-established diplomatic relations with Israel. In talking about his country, Gyenge said that Hungary could not ignore the fact that 600,000 Hungarian Jews perished in the Holocaust, "because we were not good enough to protect them." Today, there are some 250,000 Israelis of Hungarian background, he said. Interior Minister Ofer Paz-Pines said that as the son of Holocaust survivors, he found it meaningful and important that Hungary was willing to take responsibility for its role in the Holocaust.
THE WEATHERMAN smiled on Turkish Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu last Friday, and turned on perfect weather for the well-attended, lunch-time garden reception celebrating the 82nd anniversary of the proclamation of the Turkish Republic. If anyone needed a sign of the strength of the relationship between Israel and Turkey, it was provided by Sinirlioglu, who pointed to the large number of Turkish government ministers who visited Israel over the past year. National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer , who met with some of those ministers, expressed Israel's appreciation for Turkey's support during times of conflict.
POLISH AMBASSADOR Jan Piekarski, who in March this year hosted Polish President-elect Lech Kaczynski when he visited Israel in his capacity as Mayor of Warsaw - and inter-alia promoted the Museum of Polish-Jewish History that is under construction in the Polish capital - was very pleased with Kaczynski's post-election declaration to Sever Plocker, the Polish-born finance editor of Yediot Aharonot. Poland's new president proclaimed himself to be a staunch friend of Israel. Meanwhile, if all goes well, Kaczynski's predecessor, Aleksander Kwasniewski, is all set to become the next secretary-general of the United Nations. The East Europeans have never held the secretary-generalship of the UN, Piekarski told The Jerusalem Post. If it is given to the East Europeans, he added, "Kwasniewski is the natural choice." Here, too, Israel has a friend. Kwasniewski has been to Israel several times, and after diplomatic ties were renewed between Poland and Israel, he made a point of befriending Mordechai Palzur, who was Israel's first ambassador after a long hiatus.