Speeches at state dinners are often reaffirmations of bilateral relations in various fields, plus an opportunity for both the host and the guest to air the ailments of their respective countries in politically correct terminology.
However, when President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, hosted a state dinner for Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and his wife, Maka Chichua, on Monday, Rivlin barely mentioned Middle East politics or security. The key focus of his address was on famed Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli, who during his sojourn in Jerusalem wrote his famous epic poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.” Rivlin talked about the Hebrew translations of the poem and the people who had translated it.
He also credited Georgian Jews for pioneering the effort by Jews to leave the Soviet Union for Israel. Eighteen Georgian Jewish families, under the leadership of Shabtai Alashvili, in 1967 wrote a letter to the United Nations Committee on Human Rights demanding to be allowed to immigrate to Israel. The letter led to the worldwide struggle for the liberty of Soviet Jewry.
Rivlin spoke in Hebrew and Margvelashvili began in English and continued in Georgian. The translator in both cases was former MK Nino Abesadze, who was born in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and is a journalist by profession, having worked as a news presenter for Georgian State Television before settling in Israel in 1996.
Georgian is a unique, esoteric language, but one of the benefits of having been raised in any country that was part of the Soviet Union is fluency in Russian. Abesadze had no trouble finding work in Israel in Russian language television programs and the Russian print media. As a translator on Monday night, she was amazing, translating unhesitatingly, without taking a single note.
Among the guests was former ambassador to Georgia Baruch Ben Neria, who was responsible for Abesadze coming to Israel. Also present was Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who, though born in Israel, comes from Georgian stock, and who was described by Rivlin as being “very stubborn.”
Aside from native Georgians, and people of Georgian background who were present, there were also guests with connections to the former Soviet Union, such as former MK and minister Gideon Sa’ar, whose mother was born in Bukhara, and whose father, who migrated from Argentina, was the personal physician of David Ben-Gurion. Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin has a closer relationship with the former USSR. He was born in Ukraine.
Also among the guests were Shabtai Tsur, a former ambassador to Georgia, who is currently deputy mayor of Ashkelon, and who succeeded in getting the street on which he lives to be named after him; former Jerusalem deputy mayor Yigal Amedi, who is now honorary consul for Georgia; MK Hilik Bar, who is co-chairman of the Israel-Georgia Parliamentary Friendship Group, and of course Georgian Ambassador Paata Kalandadze and Ambassador to Georgia Yuval Fuchs.
Margvelashvili was thrilled that Rivlin had chosen to speak about Rustaveli, whose poem, said Margvelashvili, had determined the identity of the Georgian nation.
Relating to the violence to which both Israel and Georgia have been subjected, the Georgian president said that “Georgia believes in the positive emotion of reconciliation that will heal the violence.”
The entertainment for the evening was provided by the magnificent Kolan Singers, a group of Georgian male singers who have been entertaining the Israeli public since 1982.
The enthusiastic applause of the Georgian guests of honor signified not only appreciation but pride.
■ EARLIER IN the day, Rivlin also hosted visiting Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. When they posed for photos, Rivlin remarked that they were two Litvaks. His family came to Jerusalem from Lithuania in 1809.
In his conversations with foreign visitors, Rivlin occasionally tends to use the Hebrew terminology for their countries, instead of the English.
Grybauskaite had never previously heard her country referred to as Lita, but she loved it. “It’s beautiful,” she exclaimed.
■ RIVLIN WAS cutting it fine on Tuesday, when he was scheduled to leave at 6 p.m. on a state visit to the Czech Republic. He was initially scheduled to meet with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at 3:30 p.m., but the secretary-general, whose visit to Israel was a surprise, spontaneous decision, sent word that he would be delayed by an hour, which left Rivlin very little time to get to the airport. Then again, when you’re the president of the state, you can afford to be late, because the plane will not take off without you.
■ IF ANYONE wanted to see the diversity of Jerusalem’s American expat community, along with representatives of the many organizations with which the United States Embassy is in partnership, the best place to do so this week was at the American Center in Jerusalem, where Thomas Genton, counselor for press and public affairs at the US Embassy, and Bill Murad, the director of the American Center in Jerusalem, were celebrating the opening of its newly refurbished space.
Given the current circumstances in Jerusalem, Murad thought that it was an amazing turnout. Indeed it was, with people of different faiths, ideologies and almost every stripe of Judaism. There was a lot of socializing and networking, before US Ambassador Dan Shapiro embarked on the ribbon-cutting ceremony, with Rabbi Michael Melchior and Israel Prize laureate Adina Bar-Shalom, the founder of the Jerusalem Haredi College for women, engaged in a heated discussion on education.
Among others present were Marcie Natan, the national president of Hadassah, the Women’s Organization of America, and Barbara Goldstein, the deputy executive director of Hadassah’s office in Jerusalem, who were in a hurry to leave but stayed because Shapiro, whose mother and mother-in-law are members of Hadassah, indicated that he was going to mention Hadassah in his speech.
Indeed he did, but not before Genton delivered what he called his own Academy Award speech, in which he thanked everyone associated with the project – and there were a lot of names. He also made the point that the American Center serves as a forum for open dialogue and discussion and promotes mutual understanding.
Shapiro characterized the diversity of the crowd in front of him as being emblematic of the “extraordinary partnership” that the US Embassy has with the diversity of Israeli society.
He also spoke of the solidarity of America with Israel in these troubling times, adding that so many Americans stand in true solidarity with Israel because American citizens have been among the victims of terrorism. He also reiterated America’s condemnation and total rejection of terrorism and America’s commitment to a durable solution to the current crisis and the restoration of security and revival of the peace process.
In referring to Hadassah, Shapiro said: “We salute you,” and noted that Hadassah has forged a civil society alliance with Israel for more than a century, and that patients of all backgrounds are cared for at the Hadassah Medical Center without any form of discrimination.
Returning to the crisis situation, Shapiro said: “The tensions outside this building remind us of the critical needs for joint efforts.”
■ ALTHOUGH THERE were numerous Americans present at Jerusalem’s Inbal hotel last Saturday night for a town hall meeting with a bipartisan group of five US congressmen who spent a week touring Israel despite daily terrorist attacks and the deteriorating security situation, there was minimal diversity in the audience, both in terms of political and religious orientation. In fact, although he said it in jest, Marc Zell, the co-chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, in noting that Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-California) is Jewish, commented, “So we have something in common.”
On a more serious note, Zell said that there are 400,000 Americans in Israel, and in the last elections 100,000 registered to vote. He urged all American citizens living in Israel, regardless of party affiliation, to register. There were already people in the crowd who were busy campaigning.
The other congressmen in the group were Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-New Jersey), Rep. Raoul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina). Their trip was sponsored by Proclaiming Justice to the Nations and hosted by Yes! Israel.
Most of the group had been to Israel before, but emphasized that the reason they were here this time was to demonstrate support and gather information so that when they go home they could tell the truth about what is happening here. In fact, Lowenthal and Meadows are going to write a joint op-ed that will not only tell the truth but also prove that there is bipartisan support for Israel.
What was amazing was that Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde, who was the moderator for the evening, was able to persuade most of the people who queued up behind the microphone for the Q&A session to be brief and not to make a statement but to actually ask a question. Surprisingly, the message got through.
■ PEOPLE ARE frequently surprised by the strength and influence of Australia’s Jewish community, given that Australia is so far away from the rest of the world and even more so from the Jewish world. Yet Australia has an extraordinary network of Jewish religious and educational facilities, Jewish welfare organizations and Zionist organizations. Australian Jewry has been in the forefront of the struggle for Soviet Jews and in the battle against anti-Semitism, and the Australian Jewish media are among the oldest in the world.
The Australian Jewish News, which recently celebrated its 120th anniversary, is believed to be the second- oldest Jewish newspaper in the world. It covers not only Jewish community affairs but Jewish world affairs. In tactile form, it is a weekly tabloid that reaches most Jewish households, but also has a website which is constantly updated.
The Australian Embassy last week hosted a reception for Rod Kenning, the newspaper’s general manager, and its Israel correspondent, Nathan Jeffay. Unfortunately, Ambassador Dave Sharma was away, but deputy chief of mission James McGarry did a fine job of welcoming the guests. Kenning spoke of Australian Jewry’s deep interest in, and ongoing support for, Israel.
Sharma will be one of the speakers this Thursday at the reunion of Australian Habonim at the Council for a Beautiful Israel, where those attending will include veterans who were members of the movement before the establishment of the state, recent immigrants and young Australians who are spending up to a year on leadership and service courses in Israel. Because the Australian Jewish community is so closeknit, several former members of Bnei Akiva have indicated that they, too, will be attending.
■ ONE OF the ways to celebrate a 40th wedding anniversary is to invite 40 people to dinner, which is more or less what Marcel and Suzanne Hess did on Monday of this week, with many of the guests representing different stations of the couple’s lives in Basel, Switzerland, Netanya, Ra’anana and Jerusalem.
But they were celebrating more than 40 years of togetherness. They were also celebrating 220 years of a family business that moved from Germany to Switzerland to Israel.
For those who may not be aware, Marcel is internationally known as The Sausage King for having won numerous international culinary competitions with his sausage products, the recipes for which have been handed down from generation to generation. But what makes his sausages extraordinary is the fact that they won prizes in general competitions, thus proving that the contention that kosher meat is lacking in taste is nothing more than a myth.
The decisions of adjudicators are made on the basis of blind tastings, and the Hess entries won time and again over nonkosher sausages.
Hess and his wife have operated restaurants in Basel and in Israel, and of course their culinary repertoire extends way beyond sausages.
In fact, they developed such a reputation that when they decided to have their 40th anniversary celebration at the Angelica restaurant, which is one of Jerusalem’s finer eateries, chefs Erez Mergi and Marcos Gershkowitz, respecting the fact that Hess is a certified master chef and religiously observant to boot, allowed him to partially prepare the succulent main course, which everyone pronounced to be delicious.
Many people of middle age and upward who have built up a business and want their offspring to continue the family tradition are often disappointed because the offspring prefer to move into hi-tech.
However in the Hess family, this problem did not arise. True, Chantal Golan Hess, the eldest daughter, opted for a career in fashion.
But Doron Hess, the youngest of three siblings, took over the family business, aided by his sister Dalia Wolf Hess, and runs a successful operation in Jerusalem. He has also brought additional pride to the family by earning military citations as an outstanding officer during his army service in the reserves.
Both Marcel and Suzanne Hess are very community minded, and have thrown themselves into community activity and philanthropy wherever they happened to live. Marcel is also a trained paramedic. This enabled him to diagnose himself when he suffered a minor stroke toward the conclusion of Yom Kippur. However, he did not break his fast, nor did he seek medical attention until after nightfall. Fortunately, he is well on the road to recovery.
At the dinner he said that the stroke had given him a fresh perspective on life, and he now takes nothing for granted and regards each new day as a gift. He also said that his wife, Suzanne, is his great blessing in life and the soul of their family.
It just so happened that the dinner, which was held in accordance with the Gregorian calendar date of the anniversary, also coincided with the Lech Lecha Torah portion, in which Abraham was commanded to leave his land and his father’s house for a place that God would show him. Yaron Wolf, one of the Hess sons-in-law, said that this was entirely symbolic of what Hess and his wife had done. They had come to Israel with faith and optimism in order to give their children an enhanced sense of Jewish identity.
He added that like Abraham, they were paragons of hospitality and the joy of giving to others.
This theme was also taken up by Rabbi Avigdor Burstein of the Hatzvi Yisrael Congregation Jerusalem, which is one of several synagogues that Hess attends and supports. “Your history is a novel, if not in book form,” he told the couple, adding that wherever they were, geographically speaking, they always approached their surroundings with a sense of mission.
Rabbi Shalom Nutovic of Netanya said that when Hess lived there, he heard an explosion and, when he went to investigate, found there had been a serious traffic accident and that the victim had been taken to a hospital in another city because there was no orthopedic department in Netanya’s Laniado Medical Center. This was incomprehensible to Hess, who arranged for one of Switzerland’s leading orthopedic specialists, Dr. Claude Picard, to come and found the orthopedics unit at Laniado, which he still runs, and which was funded by donations from the Swiss Jewish community.
Rabbi Nechemiah Neuberger of the Ohel Yitzhak Synagogue, which is just a few meters away from the Angelica restaurant, spoke of the significance of the number 40 in Jewish teachings. A scholar cannot study Kabbala until the age of 40.
In the story of Noah and the flood, the waters came down for 40 days.
When Moses received the Torah, he spent 40 days on the mountain. The Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. And possibly most important, given the occasion at hand, was the fact that a person’s soul mate is determined in heaven 40 days before the person is born.
The final speaker was Rabbanit Dr. Pnina Neuwirth of Ra’anana, who observed that at a wedding there are two voices, one of joy (kol sasson) and one of happiness (kol simha). She drew on the analogy of the Vilna Gaon, who likened these two voices in a marriage to Simhat Torah, on which one reads the last chapter of the Bible and then immediately goes back to reading the first chapter. Even though there is joy in completing the reading of the Torah, there is great happiness in being able to start again and to discover something new, which in a sense is what marriage is all about.
Neuwirth, by the way, is the daughter of former science minister and current president of Bar-Ilan University Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz.
■ IT’S NOT so long ago that the career of a fashion model ended when she hit age 30, but not any more. Today, there are many highclass models who are not only in their 30s and 40s but even in their 50s, such as award-winning actress and filmmaker Ronit Elkabetz, who is also a model when she has the time, and who will celebrate her 51st birthday next month.
Elkabetz was among the models who paraded creations by Israel’s leading designers at the Gindi TLV Fashion Week, and wowed the audience in a brilliant yellow gown designed by Israel’s most internationally famous fashion icon, Alber Elbaz, who since 2001 has been the creative director at the House of Lanvin in Paris, but who never forgets that his talent was developed in Israel. Elbaz continues to support Israel’s fashion industry in different ways.
Also among the models strutting the runway at Fashion Week was newly married supermodel Bar Refaeli, who turned 30 in June.
Refaeli wore a glittering form-fitting gown by Shai Shalom.
■ CLOSE TO 20 years ago, a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim women – both local Arab and Palestinian – came together to create a quilt. It was during a period of unrest and tension, and the women felt that by doing something together, they would make a small but significant contribution to the peace process.
The quilt evolved from an earlier idea by Libby Bergstein, a protocol assistant to then-Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert. Bergstein had a friend who was suffering from cancer and wanted people to get together to make a healing quilt for her. Healing quilts are used in many parts of the world to wrap around seriously ill people and for their relatives and friends to join in embracing and praying for the sick person who is wrapped in the quilt in the hope that their combined energies will restore the person to health. In the case of Bergstein’s friend, it was too late, but Bergstein, who had other friends and acquaintances in the Arab community, transferred her concept to healing the differences between Jews and Arabs.
The motif for the quilt was an open hand stretched out in friendship.
Everyone involved in the project was given a hand made out of fabric.
There were different fabrics in different colors, and each woman could embellish the hand in whichever way she wanted. The hands were subsequently mounted on a large, heavier piece of fabric and stitched together to make what is known as the peace quilt.
The quilt has been extensively displayed in Israel and abroad, primarily due to the efforts of former Peace Corps activist Elana Rozenman, who now lives in Jerusalem and is heavily involved in ecumenical peace-loving organizations.
Rozenman takes the quilt with her to important conferences abroad.
This past week she displayed it at the Parliament of the World Religions in Salt Lake City, where she also led a women’s multi-faith walk, with the participation of women from other conflict zones.
■ THIS COMING Friday, October 23, the Association of Israelis of Central European Origin will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the illustrious Jewish scholar Martin Buber with a lecture by Prof. Dan Avnon of the Hebrew University’s School for Public Policy, Jerusalem, who will speak on Buber’s relevance today.
Avnon has authored a book, Martin Buber: The Hidden Dialogue, in which he gives examples of Buber’s prescience regarding the Arab-Israel conflict, long before the establishment of the state. Buber forecast the problems that arose, including what would happen if the Jews did not treat the Arabs with scrupulous integrity and fairness.
The lecture, under the title “Buber Here and Now,” will be held at 10:30 a.m. at Beit Hatfutsot - The Museum of the Jewish People, in Tel Aviv.
Avnon will not be the sole speaker, so the audience will get a variety of Buber insights.
One of Buber’s quotes, which applies in both directions to the stalemate in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, is: “There are three principles in a man’s being and life: the principle of thought, the principle of speech and the principle of action. The origin of all conflict between me and my fellow men is that I do not say what I mean and I don’t do what I say.”