At very short notice the Foreign Ministry hosted a farewell luncheon for Croatian Ambassador Pjer Simunovic in the King David Hall of the Mount Zion Hotel in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Simunovic is one of several ambassadors who are winding up their postings in Israel during the spring and summer of 2016. But he didn’t really expect to leave before August. However, just over a week ago, he was notified that he now has a new title – that of director of national security of the Republic of Croatia, a job for which he had not even applied. He flew to Zagreb to be briefed, was given a set of new business cards and told to report for duty next week. He barely had time to wind up his affairs in Israel before returning home this coming Saturday.
For Simunovic, his three-and-a-half years in Israel have been an ongoing love affair. Aside from making many friends in different spheres, he just loves the country and its people, and he really enjoyed living in Neveh Zedek in Tel Aviv, where he was close to Jaffa, close to the beach, close to numerous cultural, dining and sporting outlets, and where he could feel the pulse of Israeli life in a way that eludes his colleagues in Herzliya Pituah and Kfar Shmaryahu.
As a matter of fact, several of his colleagues came to the luncheon, among them Danish Ambassador Jesper Vahr, Belgian Ambassador John Cornet d’Elzius, Bulgarian Ambassador Dimitar Mihaylov, Macedonian Ambassador Pojo Aviroviki, Serbian Ambassador Milutin Stanojevic, Ambassador of the Hellenic Republic Spyridon Lampridi and Portuguese Ambassador Miguel de Almeida e Sousa.
Also present was former government minister and military commander Yossi Peled, who served in the Israel Defense Forces for 30 years and is now president of the Israeli-Croatian Chamber of Commerce.
To illustrate how small the world has become, or alternately how very long the arm of coincidence is, Aviv Shiran, deputy director for Western Europe at the Foreign Ministry, when making a farewell speech to the guest of honor, disclosed that prior to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Peled had been his commander on the Golan Heights.
Hinting that Simunovic had special protekzia (connections) at the Foreign Ministry, which was why a luncheon could be arranged so quickly, chief of protocol Meron Reuben told Simunovic that he would always be welcome at the ministry whenever he cared to return. Nitza Raz Silbiger, who heads the ministry’s Protocol Department, is of Yugoslavian parentage and shares a common language with Simunovic, though they were not the only people in the room who could speak Croatian.
“I never thought it would be so hard to leave Israel,” said Simunovic. The fact of the matter is that he will be in and out of Israel like a yo-yo, because exchange visits by national security officials of countries with which Israel has bilateral relations are more or less par for the course. Various people spoke of Simunovic’s distinguished military career, his ability to play basketball, his modesty, his intelligence, his good nature, and above all his genuine friendship for Israel and his abhorrence of anti-Semitism.
A former BBC journalist and state secretary in the Croatian Defense Ministry, Simunovic said that even before coming to Israel, he was reading The Jerusalem Post and pledged that he would remain an avid reader.
■ SOMETIMES THE things people say behind your back are more important than what they say to your face. If beleaguered Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog had stayed around after delivering his address on Wednesday at a pre-Passover toast in Jerusalem, his heart would have warmed at the supportive statements made by fellow Zionist Union MKs such as Amir Peretz, Nachman Shai and even Erel Margalit, who said that on a personal level, he has every hope that Herzog will emerge unscathed from his current predicament, but on a political level, he wants Herzog, together with Labor Party members, to once and for all decide on a date for the Labor primary and not to postpone the elections indefinitely. Margalit said that he doesn’t care if the elections take place in six months’ time, but he wants a definite, agreed-upon date and not a two-year postponement.
A hi-tech entrepreneur before he went into politics, Margalit also spoke of the opportunities offered for regional cooperation on many levels due to the violence and chaos sown by terrorist organizations. It’s no longer a case of Jews and Arabs, he said, but of moderates and radicals, and the realization by some Arab countries that it would be to their advantage to benefit from Israeli know-how and experience.
Margalit also urged that fresh faces be brought into the party because every enterprise, whether political or otherwise, needs an infusion of renewal from time to time, he said. As a Jerusalemite, he is confident that there is a great deal of potential Labor membership in the capital.
Among those present at the event, was the Labor Party’s elder statesman, Prof. Shimon Shetreet, a former government minister and an internationally recognized authority on public and international law.
Shetreet was singled out for greetings by one speaker after another.
■ AGAINST THE backdrop of Spain’s declaration that it will grant Spanish citizenship to anyone who can prove descent from the Jews exiled from Spain more than 520 years ago, some 20 businesspeople who are members of the Friends of Beit Hatfutsot went on a roots mission to Spain in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The group was led by Irit Admoni Perlman, the director of the Friends, and Hannah Perry Zan, who chairs the Friends Investments Division, as well as Enia Zeevi Kupfer, a member of the Friends Executive who heads the Israel Europe desk.
In Madrid, Israel’s Ambassador to Spain Daniel Kutner and leading members of the Jewish community, among them Daniel Querub, the president of the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities, and David Hatchwell, the president of the Jewish community of Madrid, hosted a reception in honor of the visiting Israelis. Also present was former justice minister Alberto Ruiz Galladron, who spearheaded the citizenship legislation.
The occasion also marked the launch of the Madrid Friends of Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People.
In March 1992, six years after the establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and Spain, Chaim Herzog, who was then president of Israel, and Juan Carlos, who was then king of Spain, prayed together in the Madrid Synagogue in a gesture of reconciliation marking the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
Juan Carlos, whose many titles included king of Jerusalem, paid a reciprocal visit to Israel’s capital the following year.
■ THERE ARE individuals who, no matter how much advance notice they get about anything, somehow cannot help but leave arrangements till the last minute.
Thus, in many households people are realizing that they have not yet purchased Passover gifts, or that they don’t have sufficient Haggadot for all those who will be sitting at their Seder table. For those who simply don’t have enough time during the week to catch up with all such purchases, and who are not Sabbath observers, there is still an option this Saturday, April 16, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., when cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen and his artist wife, Sali Ariel, will hold open house and a spring sale of his signed copies of The Dry Bones Passover Haggadah and her works of art. Visitors to their home at 2 Keren Hayesod Street, Herzliya Pituah, which is just off the Herzliya Pituah-Kfar Shmaryahu intersection, will also be served coffee and cake.
■ LED BY Julie Fisher, the wife of the American ambassador, and Rocio Gonzalez, the wife of the Peruvian ambassador, and Gali Gleicher, the spouse of a US Embassy employee, some 50 members of the Diplomatic Spouses Club Israel traveled south this week to visit the Hatzerim Air Force Base and catch a close-up glimpse of some of the attributes that contribute to the excellence of Israel’s air force. The group, including male and female spouses of diplomats, as well as those of military attachés, were able to inspect simulators, observe different aircraft, and watch an Independence Day rehearsal flyover, while touring the facilities. They also had a chance to hear some impressive speakers who related different aspects of the history of the air force.
Participants on the trip represented some 20 plus countries and came away with a better understanding of Israel’s pride in its defense capabilities. For Aradhana Sharma, the spouse of the new Indian ambassador, this was her first DSCI trip, which enabled her to get off to a great start in exploring what makes Israel tick.
■ GOOD DEEDS Day, an Israeli initiative that is the brainchild of Shari Arison, who is reputed to be the wealthiest woman in Israel, has caught on around the globe, and this year, its 10th anniversary year, was practiced in more than 70 countries with a major kickoff in New York’s Herald Square, where David and Jason Arison, the sons of Shari Arison, presented New York Mayor Bill de Blasio with a Good Deed shirt. The Arison brothers told thousands of individuals and members of organized groups that Good Deeds Day gives everyone the opportunity to connect and to help one another. It inspires people to do good for those around them, including people they don’t know, and it leads to doing good deeds all year round.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon also got into Good Deeds Day mode and, together with Cyprus’s Ambassador to the UN Nicholas Emiliou, volunteered at New York Grand Central Neighborhood Social Services shelter, serving food to the poor and the homeless. “Reaching out and helping those less fortunate is deeply ingrained in the value system of the Jewish people. International Good Deeds Day is a most fitting opportunity to show the true face of Israel as a country committed to making the world a better place,” said Danon.
The shelter serves hundreds of homeless clients on a daily basis and works in close partnership with the Jewish communal organizations throughout New York to provide care and assistance in finding housing for the homeless.
■ ON THE subject of good deeds all year round and not just on one special day, New York native Coby Schoffman, who is a graduate of IDC Herzliya, studied conflict resolution during his undergraduate studies and took a semester in Istanbul. Before returning to Israel, he decided to take some time off from his studies and move to a remote village in central Uganda.
He located a school online and responded to an advertisement from the director, who was using a volunteer database. The school has no website or Facebook page. Nonetheless, Schoffman decided to see what was doing, and on arrival in Uganda found the school’s director waiting for him at Entebbe International Airport.
The school is composed of around 700 students, over half of them orphans who live on the school compound all year round. There were no toilets or showers, and Schoffman was the only mzungu (white person) within many miles.
The school and community touched him greatly, and after coming back to the Israel he formed a nonprofit organization to help assist high schools across East Africa, with the school in which he had worked in Uganda as its first project (www.nation-foundation.org).
Over the past year the foundation raised more than $15,000 to help the school and the community. The project is being expanded to Tanzania and Kenya this summer.
Seven Jewish volunteers from Israel, France and the US will travel to Africa to try to improve the quality of life for people in these countries. As philanthropy goes, $15,000 is chicken feed, but for people who have nothing, it goes a long way. Schoffman and his colleagues hope to raise a lot more so that they can do more good.
■LEGENDARY ISRAEL Prize laureate Rabbi Avraham Elimelech Firer, who is founder and chairman of Ezra Lamarpeh, has no formal medical training but has saved countless lives through his contacts with hospitals and medical experts in Israel and around the world. One would think that Firer, the father of 10 children, would not have much time for activity outside of his family, but he has managed to juggle his time in such a way as to operate a fleet of ambulances, an intensive care unit for flying patients abroad, a network of clinics, a homecare network for children with cancer and a video conference system for international medical consultations. When seriously ill patients cannot find the right doctor or cannot get an immediate appointment, they turn to Firer, who always knows which buttons to press.
His latest project, a health clinic in Sderot, was recently inaugurated. Among those attending the ceremony for the affixing of the mezuza were Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, National Insurance Institute director Shlomo Mor-Yosef, social entrepreneur Elie Lederman, and many other well-known figures, including prominent businesspeople from around the country, and of course Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi, who could not speak highly enough of the benefits that the clinic will bring to the residents of Sderot.
■ THERE ARE many young lawyers appointed as judges these days, as was the case this week among the 18 judges who were appointed at a ceremony at the President’s Residence. Nelly Rosman-Gellis, who was appointed to the Family Court in the Tel Aviv District’s Magistrate’s Court, came with her baby which she left in her husband’s arms. The baby whimpered a little here and there during the ceremony, but was perfectly well behaved and even grinning when Mommy made her pledge of allegiance to the state and its laws. But minutes later the baby began to cry and had to be taken outside by Daddy, who, having passed the stage of anticipation, did not mind.