On Wednesday of this week, Ra’anana, or rather Ra’anana Park, was temporarily transformed into a mini London as part of the British Embassy’s celebration of the 90th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The large park was ringed with Union Jacks. The artificial lake, replete with swimming ducks, was as close to the Thames as one could get, under the circumstances. A sleek Aston Martin car was on display and British Ambassador David Quarrey and his partner, Aldo Henriquez, received guests alongside an old-fashioned red telephone booth, which once was almost as much a landmark in Britain as Big Ben, which was featured on a huge video screen, as were scenes of the queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, who celebrated his 95th birthday last week.
Toward twilight an announcement was made in English and Arabic, informing Muslim guests where and at what time they could break the Ramadan fast. Many of the religiously observant Jewish guests who were present were heartened by the fact that the catering was kosher.
In addition, because the park is so spacious, there was no sense of overcrowding, despite the numbers. Ra’anana Mayor Ze’ev Bielski was receiving almost as many congratulatory remarks as Quarrey. The smartly dressed brass band of the Royal Air Force entertained on the main stage, while on another stage the latter-day four-member band which calls itself The Beatles belted out the songs made famous by the original Beatles.
In greeting his guests first in Hebrew before switching to English, Quarrey said that he was delighted to welcome them to celebrate an extraordinary birthday and an extraordinary life of a queen committed to public service who is her country’s longest-reigning monarch.
Describing the street party that had been held for the queen in London, Quarrey said with wry British humor: “Inevitably, it rained.”
Aside from celebrating the queen’s birthday, said Quarrey, he also wanted to celebrate another year of friendship and partnership between Britain and Israel, during which the United Kingdom has become Israel’s No. 1 trading partner in Europe.
In addition to economic and scientific cooperation, Britain is working more closely with Israel in defense and security, he said. In this context he had been happy to this week welcome the arrival in Israel of the HMS Defender. He also congratulated Elbit, whose chairman, Michael Federmann, was present, on its multimillion pound contract with the UK Ministry of Defense.
Turning to the Middle East in general, Quarrey said that the search for peace remains urgent. He also condemned the terrorist attack on Sarona Market in Tel Aviv, saying that there was no justification for it, and sent condolences to the families of the victims of the Orlando terrorist attack.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who represented the government, said that he remembered being in London in 1977 when the queen was celebrating the silver jubilee of her accession to the throne and there were big signs on all the red double- decker buses.
Levin praised British Prime Minister David Cameron for Britain’s support of Israel on issues such as boycott, the fight against anti-Semitism and security, and he welcomed the British leader’s condemnation of anti-Semitic remarks made by prominent British figures.
Levin also said that Britain has an important role in advancing the peace process in the region, against the backdrop of Britain’s historical role in the establishment of the Jewish state since the time of the Balfour Declaration.
■ NEXT THURSDAY, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will award the third annual Genesis Prize to world-renowned Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman at a ceremony scheduled to take place at the Jerusalem Theater. The event will be hosted by award-winning British actress Dame Helen Mirren and attended by numerous dignitaries, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and Genesis Prize Foundation chairman Stan Polovets.
■ MOMENTARILY BREAKING off his speech on Tuesday night in the midst of spontaneous applause, World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder said that he wasn’t used to Jewish audiences applauding him to such an extent. The Christian audiences applaud, he said, but not the Jews. Lauder, who was delivering the Distinguished Rennert Lecture at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem after having been presented with the Twentieth Anniversary Guardian of Zion Award by the Ingeborg Rennert Center of the Faculty of Jewish Studies at Bar-Ilan University, was applauded several times during his speech.
The audience was most enthusiastic when Lauder shared information about some of the current WJC activities that he supports and in some cases instigated. Incidentally, he donated his $100,000 prize money to the WJC. The WJC has created a Jewish Diplomatic Corps, which currently has 250 envoys from different countries, but Lauder wants to increase the number to 1,000, with representatives from every country in which there is a Jewish community. The corps comprises young people in the 25-45 age bracket who have all been trained to act as emissaries for the Jewish people in their home countries. Lauder has worked with them personally and views them as a great source of pride.
In addition, he supports Law Fare, which is made up of young Jewish lawyers who fight BDS in courts around the world.
Impatient with Israel’s foot-dragging over a proper hasbara (public diplomacy) ministry, which he has been advocating for years, Lauder created a hasbara section in the WJC’s operations in the US. “Jews practically invented PR. There is absolutely no reason for us not to have great PR.” The plan is to bring together the best people from the top agencies to ensure that the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people “will not define who we are.”
And it doesn’t end there. Lauder also wants to establish a Jewish peace corps that will send young Jewish volunteers from Israel and the Diaspora to Jewish communities around the world to help boost Jewish identity and to put them more in touch with their own Jewishness.
■ AT THE annual awards ceremony for Russian achievers of the year that was held at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Tuesday, Netanyahu was one of the very few speakers who spoke in Hebrew.
The language most heard on stage and among the audience was Russian. Netanyahu said that he was very proud of the fact that during his first term as prime minister 20 years ago, he had broken the glass ceiling by appointing a Russian-speaking director-general, who is now the defense minister, and two Russian-speaking ministers, Yuli Edelstein, who is now speaker of the Knesset, and Natan Sharansky, who is now chairman of the Jewish Agency.
The auditorium was filled with Russian- speaking athletes, entertainers, and academics along with past and present politicians, the most popular of which was Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who announced that this was his first public event since taking office. Nothing could be more fitting than for him to attend the Russian achievers’ awards ceremony so soon in his new capacity, he said.
Netanyahu presented the award for bravery to Dr. Regina Fikman, who served as a medical officer in Operation Protective Edge. Edelstein and Sharansky were unable to attend. They had a more pressing commitment – Edelstein’s wedding at the Western Wall to Irina Nevzlin.
■ CONCURRENTLY, IN Jerusalem and Washington on Thursday, June 23, the Austrian Cultural Forum will screen an important documentary film, The Last Witnesses.
The film is an abridged version of what took place on the stage of Vienna’s Burgtheater in 2013 when, together with members of the theater’s ensemble, seven Holocaust survivors shared their memories in an event produced and directed by former Burgtheater Wien director Matthias Hartmann and acclaimed Israeli-Austrian writer Doron Rabinovici.
In Washington the screening will be followed by a talk with Ari Rath, one of the seven witnesses and a former editor-inchief of The Jerusalem Post. Rath also did this earlier in the month in New York. Rath, 91, was born and raised in Vienna, and after the 1938 Anschluss came as a 13-yearold boy under the auspices of Youth Aliya to the Land of Israel. He was one of the founders of Kibbutz Hamadiya. Although he studied contemporary history and economics, his true forte was journalism, in which he has been engaged for most of his life. He remains active as a journalist and author as well as a promoter of the Israeli- Palestinian dialogue, and divides his time between Vienna and Jerusalem.firstname.lastname@example.org