When an ambassador combines a farewell with a National Day reception, there is generally a little more pomp and ceremony than usual, because this is a last opportunity to tout achievements. However, in the case of Austrian Ambassador Franz Josef Kuglitsch, who, with his wife, Maria, is returning to Vienna on Saturday, it literally rained on his parade in more ways than one.
Firstly, there was no minister representing the government, because nearly all the ministers were attending the Rabin commemoration session at the Knesset. Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay, who is not a member of Knesset, is usually available for diplomatic events, but not this time, due to a family bereavement. Instead, there was Aviv Shiron, a deputy director-general at the Foreign Ministry responsible for relations with Europe, who is also a former ambassador to Austria and who in private conversation chatted with Kuglitsch in German, though the official part of the evening was in English.
Generally speaking, the Austrian National Day reception is held in the spacious sunken garden and in the covered patio beneath the house. And so it was this year, with a string quartet playing by the pool in the garden till the rain came down and spattered their sheet music. Nonetheless, Kuglitsch and Shiron braved the elements and stood on a podium a meter or so outside the patio, eventually toasting each other beneath an umbrella in Austria’s red and white colors held aloft by the ambassador.
There is a long pathway from the front gate to the patio, and guests scuttled along it in a vain attempt to avoid the rain. Among the guests were representatives of numerous Austrian organizations stationed in Israel as well as a group of visiting Austrian pilgrims. Also technically arriving from abroad, just a half hour before the reception, was Ane Vahr, the wife of the Danish ambassador, who had driven visiting relatives across the border to Jordan, and rushed back.
Neither Kuglitsch nor Shiron read from prepared texts. Kuglitsch thanked all the people who had helped and befriended him during his four years in Israel and briefly mentioned that although Jews had a 400-year common history with Austria, he was pleased to have been part of a common four-year history.
Even though it wasn’t always so, he said, Austria now enjoys excellent relations with Israel.
This was confirmed by Shiron, who added that his saying so was not just a diplomatic nicety.
There have definitely been ups and downs, but relations now are indeed excellent, he declared, a factor he attributed in no small measure to Kuglitsch. He also mentioned scientific cooperation and cultural exchanges between the two countries, the fact that there are Israelis playing in the Austrian Football Bundesliga and the high-level visits in both directions.
Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz is due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, which will be the last feather in the Kuglitsch cap before he returns home. As yet, he has not been informed about what he will be doing next, but he already knows that after a year has gone by, he will return to Israel as a tourist. He and Maria have made so many friends here that they know that they will always be welcome and will feel at home.
■ EVEN THOUGH the 80th anniversary of the birth of Vaclav Havel, the great Czech writer, philosopher and dissident who became the president of post-Communist Czechoslovakia, does not fall till October next year, the Czech Center Tel Aviv, in partnership with the Embassy of the Czech Republic, the Municipality of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and the Israeli-Czech and Czech-Israeli chambers of commerce decided to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the renewal of Czech-Israel relations with a series of events under the heading of Vaclav Havel Week in Israel.
Havel visited Israel in 1990, and was the first president of a European country that had been part of the Soviet bloc to do so. During that visit, Havel, in his meetings with high-ranking Israelis, discussed the possibility of holding peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians in Prague.
The Czech Republic’s National Day also happens to fall this week, so in addition to hosting a National Day reception, Czech Ambassador Ivo Schwarz will also be running around the country from one event to the other. He will be escorting Czech Minister of Culture Daniel Herman, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Michaela Marksová, and the Minister of Regional Development Karla Slechtová, who have specially come to Israel for the occasion. Also in Israel for the same reason is former Czech ambassador to Israel Michael Zantovsky, who accompanied Havel on that historic visit, and who is currently director of the Vaclav Havel Library.
The Vaclav Havel Week began last Sunday – in Jerusalem, with the performance of Havel’s play Antiwords by the Spitfire Company theater group. On Monday, a park in Jerusalem not far from Masaryk Street, named for another great Czech, was named Vaclav Havel Park, in the presence of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
On the same day, a tile with an enlargement of Havel’s signature with its iconic small heart was placed in the Walk of Fame in the King David Hotel, to take its place with the signatures of other great men and women of the world. The hotel also put its VIP guest book on display with Havel’s original signature.
After the ceremony, guests celebrated with champagne and a performance by the Czech Philharmonic Quartet, followed by a lavish buffet lunch.
The celebrations continued in Tel Aviv, where Zantovsky launched his new book, Havel – A Life, followed by a chamber music concert by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. On Tuesday, Havel’s Place, a memorial designed by architect Borek Sipek, was unveiled at Tel Aviv University, in the presence of the artist and a number of dignitaries. The aim of the project is to create a network of places in public spaces that will contribute to meetings and genuine dialogue – places where it will be possible to reflect and hold discussions in Havel’s spirit of ideals and philosophy.
■ AS PART of the ongoing 50th anniversary celebrations of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and Germany, German Ambassador Dr. Clemens von Goetze, together with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, will speak at the opening of the Israelis and Germans traveling exhibition at the old Jaffa Railway Station known as Hatahana on Thursday, October 29.
Also present will be the exhibition’s curator, Dr. Alexandra Nocke; the president of the German-Israeli Society, Reinhold Robbe; and the president of the Israeli-German Society, Grisha Alroi-Arloser.
The exhibition was originally opened in Germany on October 15 by Bundestag President Norbert Lammert, and also honors many of the lesser known people from both countries whose efforts to build bridges bore fruit. The exhibition is contextualized by a time line charting historical events from 1949 to 2015.
The exhibition’s six modules are called Prologue, Chasm, Rapprochement, Trailblazers, Connections and Tilt. They are devoted to some 160 German and Israeli politicians, cultural and media figures, athletes, scientists and entrepreneurs and utilize texts, quotes, photos and correspondence. Photos include Konrad Adenauer with David Ben-Gurion as well as the iconic photograph of Teddy Kollek with Marlene Dietrich.
The exhibition also includes previously unpublished material, which will be displayed to the Israeli public for the first time. Exhibition venues and dates are Tel Aviv: October 29-November 7; Beersheba Municipality, November 10-19; Haifa Auditorium, November 21-30; and Jerusalem’s First Station (old railway station), December 2-30.
■ IT SEEMS that British ambassadors to Israel will have to spend much of their time assuring the Israeli public that British boycott movements against Israel do not reflect government policy and are in fact contrary to government policy. Responding to an advertisement this week in The Guardian, in which there was a letter signed by 343 British academics from 72 institutions of higher learning, including Cambridge and Oxford Universities, British Ambassador David Quarrey said: “The British government firmly opposes calls to boycott Israel. We are deeply committed to promoting the UK’s academic and scientific ties with Israel, as part of the flourishing partnership between the two countries. The reality is one of rapidly strengthening trade and tech links between Britain and Israel.
As David Cameron has said, the UK government will never allow those who want to boycott Israel to shut down 60 years’ worth of vibrant exchange and partnership that does so much to make both our countries stronger.”
Quarrey’s predecessor Matthew Gould spent a lot of time making similar statements, but one has to wonder if and when facts on the ground will outweigh policy. The published letter stated: “As scholars associated with British universities, we are deeply disturbed by Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the intolerable human rights violations that it inflicts on all sections of the Palestinian people and its apparent determination to resist any feasible settlement.”
■ PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu is once again short-changing history. At the Rabin memorial ceremony at Mount Herzl on Monday, he referred to a hundred years of Zionism – but the first Zionist Congress was in 1897, which makes the movement a little older than a hundred years. Why continue to provide fodder for our enemies, Mr.
Prime Minister? True, the 18-year difference may seem insignificant, but 18 is a very important number in Jewish tradition. In gematria it is equivalent to life.
■ ALTHOUGH JEWISH soldiers fought in the American Civil War and for centuries in the wars of Europe, Jews – with the exception of the few who reached high-ranking officer status – were not thought of in military terms until the advent of the State of Israel. Yet Jews fought in many armies and on many front during World War I and World War II, including in this part of the world. They are usually remembered and honored at Anzac Day services, which are traditionally held at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Jerusalem, where several Jewish soldiers lie buried together with their Christian comrades, albeit in an unofficial Jewish section.
Israel has tried unsuccessfully to have the remains of soldiers of the Jewish Brigade who fought under the British flag exhumed from Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries and brought to rest in military cemeteries at home.
In different parts of the world, it is British policy to have soldiers who died in battle buried together, so that comrades in arms remain comrades in death.
Among the soldiers buried abroad is Brig.-Gen. Frederick Kisch of Haifa, the highest-ranking Jewish officer in Gen. Bernard Montgomery’s army and the grandfather of Likud MK Yoav Kisch. The Kisch family has unsuccessfully attempted for years to have the remains reinterred in Israel, but no argument has been sufficiently persuasive.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission people know that if they make even one exception to the rule, they will be inundated with requests for soldiers to be reinterred in family plots or at a cemetery that is conveniently close to their kinfolk.
■ THERE ARE very few Jews buried in the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Beersheba, where Australians gather each year to honor the memories of members of the Australian and New Zealand Light Horse who played such a decisive role in the British victory over Ottoman forces in the Battle of Beersheba.
The memorial event is attended by Australian ambassador Dave Sharma along with Australian Embassy staff, Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich, Australian and New Zealand expatriates living in Israel, members of Australian and New Zealand Zionist youth groups who are spending between three months and a year in leadership and community welfare programs, and tourists from those countries along with Israelis who are interested in the history of the First World War and its effect on the countries of the region.
That’s just one of several Australian events during the month of October. The Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University is hosting a conference on Thursday, October 29, on Australia’s National Security Challenge. An Entrepreneurs “Start-up Nation” Innovation Delegation, led by Australian Assistant Minister for Innovation MP Wyatt Roy and Marita Chang, entrepreneur & young Australian of the year, will visit Israel between October 29 and November 5. And on Friday, Australians in Israel will travel south to commemorate the Battle of Beersheba.
■ THE CEREMONY in Beersheba will be the second reunion of sorts in the space of just over a week.
Last Thursday, Australian tourists and expats who had been members of Habonim in Australia came together at the Council for a Beautiful Israel in Tel Aviv to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Australian Habonim. They were joined by a large contingent of young Habonim members who are spending a year in Israel and are fondly known as “shnatis.” The two drawcards were the iconic Betty Doari, who was a member of the founding movement of Habonim, and who at 94 is still full of beans and ideology. The other was Mark Regev, spokesman for the prime minister and ambassador designate to Britain.
When Regev had first agreed to attend, he thought that he would be in Israel, but then Netanyahu changed the date of his visit to Berlin, and Regev had to accompany him. As luck would have it, the tail end of the visit coincided with the Habonim reunion, so Regev missed out on trading anecdotes with old friends, or of seeing the photos of himself with a bushy head of hair which had been brought by Aviva Belfer from Jerusalem.
There was another minor disappointment in that many of those attending expected to see more people whom they knew, but instead found a whole lot of people whom they didn’t know. “I never realized there were so many Australians in Israel,” said one Jerusalemite in amazement.
Also somewhat amazed was Esti Sherbelis, the personal assistant to Sharma. Sherbelis, who also works in the embassy’s public diplomacy division, is actually a former member of Bnei Akiva, but she feels at home in any Australian circle. Given the number of events that she has helped to organize with numerous Australians on the invitation lists, she, too, was surprised by how many people she didn’t know.
Even so, the consensus was that organizers Jeanette Gory, Yoni Glickman, Naomi Feigin, Oren Zauder and Vered Samuel, aided by veterans of the movement Selina and Jack Beris, had done a terrific job in bringing more than 300 people together.
Beris even had a line-up flag assembly with the shnatis and anyone else from among the veterans who wanted to join, and his voice rang out with the old Habonim slogan “Call us not your children but your builders,” which has a better ring to it in Hebrew, and he did say it in Hebrew. But when he sang the original hymn of the movement, Bialik’s “Tehezakna,” he was almost a soloist, because the veterans couldn’t remember the words and the younger generation had never heard of them.
It was interesting to see how many octogenarians and septuagenarians as well as second-generation Habonim families were there.
Belfer’s parents, Frances and Eddie, were both in Habonim, as was her aunt Helen Mizrahi, and all of them were at the reunion, along with other members of their family, including Seyma Lederman and her son Elie and palliative care expert Dr. Nathan Cherny, who is the first Israeli to receive a European Society for Medical Oncology award. Also among the two-generation attendants were Val Pachtman and her daughter Miriam Frenkel, who is the director of Reuth.
Other well-known personalities present were Guy Spiegelman, who heads PresentTense, filmmaker Monique Schwartz, and Rodney Sanders who is the on-site representative for Ennemoser Wirtschaftsberatung, which specializes in hotel classification.
Absent in the flesh but definitely present in the spirit was comedian Jeremie Bracka, who did a marvelous, hilariously rib-tickling comedy video in which he portrayed an Israeli in Australia whose visa was running out and who wanted to marry a nice Australian girl who would enable him to remain down under.
In addition to Doari, who had lived in Sydney but had frequently come to Melbourne, where the Jewish community was stronger and where Australian Habonim was born, there was Isaac “Pixie” Ernest, 86, who joined the movement at age 11, and who like Doari had been one of the early settlers on Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi. Sharma had a fine time talking to Doari, who made aliya 69 years ago.
In addressing the crowd, Sharma confessed that since his arrival in Israel, he had never been in a room with so many Australians at the one time. He found it heartwarming that so many Australians have not lost their connection with Australia and still spoke English with broad Australian accents.
Doari related the early history of Australian Habonim, switching unthinkingly between Hebrew and English, while Ernest, who is an educator by profession, went into greater detail and ignored the many hints that his time was up.
Several Habonim stalwarts, who as adults remained involved with the movement, lamented the fading of ideology and the lack of desire to live on a rural kibbutz among the present generation, though they were glad that Habonim people coming to Israel now were forming urban kibbutzim.
■ THE TEL AVIV Hilton, which for half a century has been integral to Israel’s social life, celebrated its 50th anniversary last Saturday night with a gala dinner and a tribute to George Gershwin, courtesy of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Foundation, which was holding its annual gala in conjunction with the anniversary, and Bank Hapoalim, which has been a longtime supporter of the IPO.
Simon Vincent, executive vice president & president, Europe, Middle East & Africa for Hilton Worldwide, and Oded Lifschitz, vice president of Hilton Worldwide and a former general manager of the Tel Aviv Hilton, both flew in from London for the occasion.
Among the guests were Oded Gera, Nurit Jaglom, Alfred and Hava Akirov, Zalman and Kenna Shoval, Bob and Doris Small, Ruth Arnon and many other well-known personalities. In fact, the event was so well attended that tables spilled out into half of the lobby.
Unfortunately, Zubin Mehta, the director of the IPO, was unable to attend, but sent a video expressing appreciation. He will be present next year for the gala celebrating his 80th birthday and the 80th anniversary of the founding of the IPO. Mehta was born in Bombay, now Mumbai, just a few months before the founding of the orchestra, and in honor of both their 80th birthdays, there will be three IPO concerts in Mumbai in December 2016, said Michael Zellermeyer, the chairman of the IPO board of directors.
Yair Serousssi and Zion Kenan, respectively chairman of the board and president of Bank Hapoalim, said officially and unofficially how pleased they were to support the IPO, while Ronnie Fortis, Tel Aviv Hilton general manager and country director for Hilton Israel, recalled that when the hotel was built, he was still a schoolboy and never imagined in his wildest dreams that he would be the general manager of Israel’s first international luxury hotel.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was also present to bring greetings, and when he was introduced by master of ceremonies actor Dan Shapira, it transpired that he had been the principal of Shapira’s school. Shapira was also part of the musical program, as were singers Alon Olearchick, Esther Rada and Riki Gal. The conductor was Yaron Gottfried, who also played the piano and conducted while he was playing. It was really quite an amazing scene and a brilliant performance.
■ THE US Embassy is traditionally associated with a multicultural musical event honoring the memory of murdered American-Israeli journalist and musician Daniel Pearl. This year’s concert is on October 29 at the Sapir Auditorium in Kfar Saba.
For the benefit of those who don’t remember, Pearl was kidnapped and brutally killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. Since then, hundreds of musical events have taken place around the world to honor his memory and promote “Harmony for Humanity,” part of Pearl’s legacy of tolerance and respect between people of different cultures. These events are part of the Daniel Pearl World Music Days initiated by his family.
This year’s concert will feature two choirs that will join forces on stage: Vocalocity, a capella choir from the Sharon area, and Shirana, a Jewish-Arab women’s choir from Jaffa. The choirs’ multilingual repertoire – with songs in English, Hebrew and Arabic – will represent the beauty of true cultural diversity.
Members of Pearl’s family will also attend as honored guests.
The event has been organized in collaboration with the Kfar Saba Municipality. Kfar Saba Mayor Yehuda Ben-Hamo and a senior representative of the US Embassy will speak of Pearl’s legacy prior to the concert, with emphasis on the fact that in these days of tension and fear, it is more important than ever to promote understanding and harmony between people through music.