Taking in the charms of China

The Chinese National Day receptions invariably include a sampling of Chinese culture.

By
October 22, 2013 21:45
Chinese and Israeli flags

China Israel flags300. (photo credit: TAU Courtesy)

■ During the first year or two that Chinese Ambassador Gao Yanping hosted her country’s National Day receptions in Israel, security was overly tight and aggressive attitudes on the part of some of her staff caused guests to feel unwelcome. But all that has changed.

Few things could have been more welcoming than the reception she hosted last week in celebration of the 64th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. Beautiful, smiling young Chinese women clad in traditional garb stood in the lobby of Tel Aviv’s Dan Hotel to welcome the guests.

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The lobby area surrounding the reception room was decorated with gold-trimmed red Chinese lanterns, and there was lots of literature in book, magazine and pamphlet form about various aspects of China. There was also a book about Tibet.

A row of senior embassy staff greeted the guests, but Gao was not among them. She was waiting for the arrival of President Shimon Peres, who she admires greatly – as evinced in the address she delivered later in the evening.

The Chinese National Day receptions invariably include a sampling of Chinese culture.

Gao had chefs flown in from Chengdu in Sichuan Province to prepare authentic cuisine, which the ambassador charmingly assured her guests was very delicious. Indeed it was.

Gao also flew in performing artists from Chengdu, who kept the guests entertained prior to the formal part of the ceremony, and who after the speeches performed for Peres.

The president was absolutely entranced by the varied talents of daring acrobats, superbly synchronized dancers, exponents of traditional Chinese musical instruments playing Chinese folk music, and the intriguing face-changing act of Zhao Jianrong of the Sichuan Opera Art Research Institute.

Among the guests was former foreign minister and defense minister Moshe Arens, who as defense minister paid a secret visit to China well before the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Arens at 87 is only three years younger than Peres, but just as spry – if not more so.

Also present were Eugene Kandel, the senior economic adviser to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and head of the inter-ministerial committee to promote economic relations between Israel and China; ambassadors of nearly all the Asian countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations; and Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson, the new head of the EU Delegation to Israel, who will have to wait until mid-December or so before he can present his credentials to Peres.

Netanyahu, who attended last year’s celebration, did not attend this year, but only because it was the anniversary of the passing of his father-inlaw, Shmuel Ben-Artzi, and he had to give priority to family commitments. He explained this in a video, saying the Chinese, like the Jews, honor their parents and ancestors.

The prime minister spoke warmly of his recent visit to China, where he had been deeply impressed by the “stunning development” that he saw there. He was also encouraged by the tremendous hospitality and friendship that had been extended to him and his family.

Both Netanyahu and Peres noted that China has lifted millions of people out of poverty, and Netanyahu saw Israel as a perfect partner for China as it continues its economic growth.

The prime minister said that both his sons were enthused about their visit to China – so much so that one is studying Chinese. “Perhaps the other one will too,” he said.

Gao, in her address, declared how honored she and her staff were by Peres’s presence, which she said was of great significance to Chinese-Israeli friendship and relations. “You are not only the well-respected leader of the Israeli people, but also an old and good friend of the Chinese people,” she told him.

Throughout her address, Gao made frequent reference to China’s love of peace and harmony, saying, “China is committed to the path of peaceful development, and the independent foreign policy of peace.”

With regard to China’s rapid economic growth, Gao spoke of the renewal of the Chinese nation and the great Chinese dream for 1.3 billion citizens – to build a society of initial prosperity by 2020, and to transform China into a modern socialist country by the mid- 21st century. “We will continue to grow the economy, improve people’s living standards, uphold social justice and stay firm on the path of reform and the opening-up of China,” said Gao, adding that if this dream comes true, it will benefit the whole world and the State of Israel in particular.

Outlining China’s long-term economic policy, Gao noted that the Chinese government has taken on a macroeconomic policy that addresses both immediate and long-term needs, and has adopted a series of innovative policy measures.

This is with a view toward ensuring steady growth, adjusting economic structure and promoting reforms, which will ensure sustained and healthy growth of the Chinese economy.

Indeed, in the coming five years, China’s commodities imports will exceed $10 trillion, its overseas investment will reach $500 billion, and Chinese tourists will make over 400 million outbound visits.

This will more strongly promote the world economy and bring more tangible benefits to other countries, Gao said.

She also stated that China will play a more proactive and constructive role in addressing international and regional hotspot issues, and promote peace and dialogue, defuse conflicts, and uphold peace and stability.

Recalling China as it once was, Peres marveled: “Whoever thought it would become the second-greatest economy in the world? It’s unprecedented!” He also said that Chinese leaders were welcome to take part in peacemaking in the Middle East. To achieve peace, you have to escape poverty, he said, emphasizing that “China is the greatest example of how to escape poverty.”

Referring to the ongoing enhancement of the relationship between the Jewish state and China, Peres listed developments such as China’s venture capital investment and joint ventures in Israeli hi-tech, with two Chinese research centers in Israel; joint academic programs with the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology; and the recent massive donation of $130 million by the Chinese Li Ka Shing Foundation to the Technion.

Peres echoed the belief of both Netanyahu and Gao that Israel and China can work well together, for the benefit of all.

Meanwhile, Israel is in the process of opening a consulategeneral in Chengdu, which will further strengthen the relationship between the two nations.

To demonstrate the warmth of their friendship for Israel, the Chinese gave each guest a souvenir toy panda, which says “I love you” when its belly is pressed.

■ IT SEEMS hard to believe that only a few ago, less than a handful of Japanese restaurants were operating in Israel – when compared to the plethora of sushi bars now opening up all over the country and serving many kinds of Japanese cuisine, in addition to sushi.

Japanese Ambassador Hideo Sato, emphasizing that there are now more than 400 restaurants in Israel serving sushi, attributes this culinary revolution to Dr. Roni Bornstein, the chairman of the Israel-Japan Chamber of Commerce, to whom he awarded the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation at a reception at the Japanese residence last week.

Bornstein is the founder of Rakuto Kasei Israel, which he established in 1990 as a joint venture with Rakuto Kasei Japan. It is one of the few Israeli companies with Japanese shareholders. The company deals with exports, and imports enzymes for the textile and food industries and raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry. Bornstein’s company also imports food products from Japan such as Kikkoman soy sauce, sushi rice, Sapporo beer, and other food and beverages.

In 2005, Bornstein initiated what is believed to be the first and only kosher sushi competition in the world. Since then there have been three such events, which received wide media coverage and contributed to greater awareness in Israel of Japanese culinary traditions.

This awareness will be enhanced during Japanese Food Week in mid-November, beginning with a gala dinner on November 13.

Sato commented dryly that the Japanese chefs participating in Japanese Food Week would be coming not from Tokyo but from San Francisco.

An award was also presented to architect and town planner Arie Kutz, chairman of the Japan-Israel Friendship Society, who received a MEXT scholarship from the Japanese government that enabled him to continue with his architectural studies in Japan. MEXT is a Japanese acronym for Monbukagakusho, which translates as the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Kutz studied at the Tokyo Institute of Technology from 1981, receiving his Master’s in 1984. He will be working with the Tokyo-headquartered Japanese architectural firm SANAA to design the new Bezalel campus in downtown Jerusalem.

Kutz, who speaks fluent Japanese and has even adopted Japanese mannerisms such as bowing when greeting someone, has an abiding passion for Japan, and has worked closely with the Japanese Embassy to develop its Friday lecture series on the myriad aspects of Japanese life and culture. Hato credited Kutz with being a driving force in last year’s celebrations of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Japan and Israel.

Bornstein said that in his 25 years of association with Japan, he had learned much from the Japanese people. He observed that one of the commonalities between Israel and Japan was that both were highly dependent on human resources – namely the brain. He was convinced that there is great potential for Japanese companies to contribute to the Jewish state’s technological and R&D growth.

Kutz said that his first encounter with Japanese culture was in Haifa, when he was still a student. He fell in love with the Tikotin Japanese Museum, which was managed by Eli Lancman, who is also a former chairman of the Japan- Israel Friendship Society. Kutz was later instrumental in getting the Technion to recognize a course that Lancman gave at the University of Haifa.

In welcoming his guests, Sato said he was particularly glad to see former ambassador to Japan Nissim Ben-Shitreet, who is now a deputy director-general at the Foreign Ministry heading the Asia and Pacific department.

“I feel so comfortable and fortunate being in the hands of a good friend of Japan,” said Sato, who began his address in fluent and accentless Hebrew, but switched to English so that his staff could understand.

Needless to say, following the presentation of the awards, guests were invited to a sumptuous Japanese feast in the ambassador’s dining room.

■ CULTURAL OUTREACH via culinary delights has become a trendy concept among diplomatic and other representatives of foreign countries in Israel. In addition to the Japanese Embassy’s sushi festival next month, the Polish Institute together with the Polish Embassy and a number of Israeli and Polish chefs will be holding a Polish culinary festival from November 2-11.

Polish Ambassador Jacek Chodorowicz and Polish Institute director Krzysztof Kopytko will be very busy traveling between Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem to attend some of the many festival events, which include a young Polish chef cooking with an 85-year-old Polish-born Holocaust survivor; and Polish and Israeli chefs cooking together to produce the cuisine of the traditional Polish kitchen, the authentic Jewish-Polish kitchen and the modern Polish kitchen. There will also be workshops, lectures, photo exhibitions of Polish and Israeli dishes, films about food and an evening of wine and vodka songs, with a little food thrown in for good measure.

Nothing is more nostalgic than the nostalgia of the palate; because so many Polish Jews migrated to Israel, there has been a strong Polish influence on Israeli cuisine. The Jewish cuisine of any country is influenced by the culinary traditions of that country, and adapted with regard to kashrut.

Unfortunately, the majority of restaurant events that are part of the Polish Food Festival are not kosher, but there are enough to ensure that observers of Jewish dietary laws will be able to join in.

■ SOME OF the people who were rooting for Karnit Flug to be appointed Israel’s first female governor of the Bank of Israel argued that a woman is suited for the job, because balancing a household budget is a microcosm of a national budget.

Actually the household budget is more difficult, since so many items on it require cash in hand.

Can we say that Flug has well and truly broken the glass ceiling? Not really. Yes, Israel has had women who served in posts such as: prime minister – Golda Meir; two foreign ministers – Meir and Tzipi Livni; one deputy defense minister – Dalia Rabin-Pelossof; one Knesset speaker – Dalia Itzik; one Supreme Court president – Dorit Beinisch; one National Labor Court president – Nili Arad; and one head of a credit card company – Irit Isaacson, who chairs the board of Isracard, the largest credit card company in Israel.

The list also includes five women heads of commercial banks – First International Bank of Israel CEO Smadar Barber-Zadik; Rakefet Russak- Aminach, who succeeded Galia Maor as CEO of Bank Leumi; Etti Langerman, CEO of Discount Mortgage Bank; and Lilach Asher-Topilsky, CEO of Israel Discount Bank; as well as one woman CEO of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange – Ester Levanon; and two female university presidents – Rivka Carmi of Ben-Gurion University and the Open University’s Hagit Messer-Yaron.

The list goes on, with women occupying important roles in politics, scientific organizations, industry and academia, but too often they were or are the first and only women in these positions. Until it becomes normal for women to be judged solely for their merits for the job at-hand, and not on the basis of gender, the glass ceiling may have many cracks – but it will not be broken.

Meanwhile, it is heartening that three of the political parties in the Knesset are led by women, and that several women are heads of departments in the Finance Ministry.

What is perhaps most heartening from a gender perspective is that while the Israeli media was digging for dirt on other candidates for the position of Bank of Israel governor – causing them great embarrassment and in some cases to withdraw from the race – Flug received unbridled media support. Everyone seemed to be in her corner.

Few Israeli public figures can boast of such popularity.

■ WHEN HE decided to celebrate his 60th anniversary in show business with a one-man show in Israel, Mike Burstyn figured that age 68, it was time to look back on a professional career that started when he was eight years old.

Actually, his first stage appearance was when he was three, but he waited five years to make his professional debut.

He’s been on stage and screen ever since, performing in Hebrew, English, Yiddish and Dutch. His current show, Shuv Itchem (With You Again), is a one-man Hebrew performance – though he sings in five languages.

It is essentially a review of the best of Burstyn over the past six decades.

Burstyn admits to being surprised at how well the show has been received. Change in everything is so rapid these days, he was not sure how much appeal the show would have. But he’s been getting good baby boom audiences around the country, a fact that gladdens his heart.

On November 3, he’ll be doing a benefit show for Beit Halochem, which had offered to buy out the show for the evening. But Burstyn said he wanted to do something for disabled soldiers whose disability resulted from their service to the nation, and decided that this would be a pro bono performance.

After that he’ll take a short break and return to the US, where he lives, but will be back in Israel very soon after to continue his anniversary tour.

■ CONTRARY TO the old adage that a prophet has no honor in his own country, Amos Oz, one of Israel’s bestknown authors at home and abroad, is heard more in his own city than in Stockholm.

In fact, when it was being debated a couple of weeks back whether there would be any Israelis among this year’s crop of Nobel Prize laureates, one radio wag said that all we can sure of is that Oz will not receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

For years on end, it has been thought in Israel and elsewhere that Oz is more than deserving of a Nobel Prize, but somehow it has eluded him – just as the Israel Prize eluded Ephram Kishon, who finally received it in 2002, and not for literature.

He was given a lifetime achievement award for his special contribution to society and the State of Israel.

The droll Kishon, who was 77 at the time, and whose prolific writings had been translated into more than 30 languages, said in response, “I’ve won the Israel Prize, even though I’m pro-Israel. It’s almost like a state pardon. They usually give it to one of those liberals who love the Palestinians and hate the settlers.”

In that respect, Oz, who has received many prestigious prizes, most recently the Franz Kafka Prize in May, received the Israel Prize for Literature in 1998, when he was not yet 60.

This was in addition to several other prizes awarded in Israel, France, Germany, Romania, Spain, Italy and Holland.

Among his Israeli prizes is the Dan David Prize, which he received in 2008 – a very good year for him as far as prizes go.

Last night, Oz added yet another prize to his collection, which was something in the nature of a homecoming. The Jerusalem-born Oz is a philosophy and Hebrew literature graduate of the Hebrew University.

Last night, in a ceremony at his alma mater, he received the I and B Neuman Prize for Hebrew Literature, which was first presented to S.Y. Agnon at the Hebrew University seven years prior to his becoming Israel’s first Nobel Prize laureate – so there is still hope for Oz in that direction.

As it happens, one of the many prizes Oz has won is the Agnon Prize, which he received in 2006.

Yesterday’s award was special, in that it marked the 50th anniversary of its presentation.

Curiously, the year in which Oz received the Israel Prize was likewise the jubilee year of the state.

In addition to numerous essays, Oz has so far written 35 books. His works have been translated into 42 languages, and he is a much sought-after lecturer in many parts of the world.

■ WITH HIS own political future hanging precariously in the balance, and with cause to worry about some of the candidates he was fielding in municipal elections, Yisrael Beytenu leader and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avigdor Liberman continues to play it cool.

Liberman, looking as cheerful and unconcerned as ever, was one of the speakers at the opening dinner of the World Jewish Congress, which he categorized as Israel’s “second Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Referring to the turmoil in the region, Liberman said: “In the past year since the Arab Spring started, it is clear that there are no links between the conflict and the real problems in the Middle East. For years, we have dealt with misrepresentation of the conflict. Today, it is clear from what is happening in Syria and Egypt that the problem is primarily internal and domestic. It is not the conflict, or the Jews – it is the radical Islamic wing in the Arab society.”

Moving closer to home, Liberman said: “It is impossible to impose peace. It is possible to work for peace – and today it is being imposed. The problem with the Palestinians is not a political one. It is not the settlements or the refugees; it is the economy. To first bring a political solution without resolving economic and security issues is a mistake and misunderstanding of our situation.”

Among the other dignitaries attending the dinner were Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is in Israel to sign a bilateral memorandum of understanding for the creation of a University of Texas campus in Nazareth. The signing ceremony is scheduled to take place today, Wednesday, at the President’s Residence, in the presence of Peres; Education Minister Shai Piron; Council for Higher Education chairman Manuel Trajtenberg; Knesset Education Committee chairman Amram Mitzna; the mayor of Nazareth (whose identity was uncertain at presstime); Nazareth Academic College representatives; and University of Texas president Bill Powers.

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