n AMONG THE many congratulatory messages that US President Barack Obama received this week was one from Tebeka, the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews' division for Advocacy for Equality and Justice for Ethiopian Israelis. Signed by Tel Aviv-based Itzik Dossie, executive director of Tebeka, and Jerusalem-based Danny Admasu, executive director of IAEJ, the letter states: "In our eyes, your election to the most powerful office in the world stands as a symbol to humanity that Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision - judging a person by the content of his character and not the color of his skin - is close to being attained. "With your rise to the presidency, the eyes of the world are watching your every move. While many will judge your presidency by your successes and failures, there are still others who unfortunately will not be able to see past the color of one's skin. "We know that we still have a long way to go. Ethiopian Jews may have returned to their Jewish homeland, but their integration into Israeli society is far from complete. Cultural and language barriers, together with stereotypes and racial bias, serve as obstacles to full integration. At the same time, the Ethiopian-Israeli community has made great strides towards equality. As advocates for bringing equality and justice to Israel's Ethiopian community, we are inspired by your election." n SOMEONE WHO may have been led blindfolded to the parking lot adjacent to Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies on Monday could be forgiven for thinking that he had stumbled on Embassy Row. More than 20 cars bearing white CD number plates were parked alongside each other. The occasion was the cornerstone-laying ceremony of the school's International Seminars Wing, whose two major donors were child Holocaust survivor Joseph Gottdenker of Canada, and the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation. Among the ambassadors present were those of Austria, Canada, Croatia, Germany, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Switzerland and Turkey, along with diplomats of lesser rank from other countries, and Hilik Bar, who holds the external affairs portfolio on the Jerusalem city council. El Salvador's Ambassador Suzana Gun de Hasenson had the shortest distance to travel. Although her embassy has been relocated to Herzliya, she continues to live in Jerusalem. In addition, she does her best never to miss out on something that is happening at Yad Vashem. n THE LONG battle between Alfred Akirov (whose prize projects include the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem) and Hilton International seemed to be almost over when the case went to arbitration, and it may well have been if the arbitrator had found in favor of Akirov. But the pendulum swung the other way, and Akirov was asked to pay out many millions of dollars for breach of contract. The David Citadel, which had its gala opening in 1998, was initially known as the Jerusalem Hilton, something that led to more than a little confusion because it took a long while for people to get used to the idea that the original Jerusalem Hilton at the entrance to the city had become the Crowne Plaza. This left the title open, and Alrov and Hilton International signed a 50-year management contract. But Akirov wasn't happy about the way the hotel was run, and Hilton was unhappy with Akirov's interference. As a result, they parted company but not without deciding to sue each other. The case dragged on for years before it went to arbitration. To add insult to injury, the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria, which is scheduled to open in 2010 under Hilton Management, is going up across the road from the David Citadel. n ACROSS THE road from the David Citadel on the other side is the Alrov Mamilla Mall, where Akirov, accompanied by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Betar Jerusalem footballers, was on hand for the opening on Tuesday of a fair in support of 44 businesspeople from the South. Merchants from Sderot, Netivot, Ashdod, Ofakim, Ashkelon, Gan Yavne and various moshavim in the area came to the capital at the joint invitation of the Jerusalem Municipality and Akirov for the three-day event. n JERUSALEM'S SHERATON Plaza hotel has had a facelift. Rooms have been redecorated as have public areas. There's new furniture everywhere, in addition to which, says general manager Yossi Sudri, service is being upgraded to ensure that the ratio of returning guests will be not only maintained but increased. n ONE OF the best-attended events in Jerusalem is the monthly Saturday night lecture series hosted in winter by Jerusalem's Great Synagogue, where more than 1,000 people arrive early to get a good seat. The next event, on January 31, co-hosted by the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel and The Jerusalem Post, will feature representatives of several of the parties running in the February 10 Knesset elections. Great Synagogue chairman Asher Schapiro in his weekly newsletter has warned that the age-old custom of saving seats for someone will not be tolerated on this occasion. People will be seated on a first come first served basis, and those who do not have a seat will have to watch the proceedings on a video screen.

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