It’s unlikely that President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras was planning to have a birthday party during his working visit to Israel, but then again, any head of state coming with a large delegation and being treated to a festive dinner in his honor on the night of his birthday could not exactly pretend to be surprised when dinner chairman retired ambassador Mordechai Arbell led a chorus of “Happy Birthday.”
The dinner, hosted by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations and the World Jewish Congress, was held at the King David Hotel, where the pastry chefs also created a birthday cake for the guest of honor. The president and his entourage were staying down the street at the Waldorf Astoria and, declining pomp and ceremony, walked from one hotel to the other – something that probably could not have happened if he had been on a state visit.
For all that, the itinerary of his visit was much the same as that of a head of state during a state visit – a meeting with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein plus meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin and other dignitaries.
The invitations to the dinner stated that it would be held at 8 p.m. Well, there’s “Jewish Mean Time” and there’s “Latin American Mean Time,” and when the two coincide at the same event, the Jews learn the true meaning of being late, not just a little bit late. The presidential delegation arrived at the King David 45 minutes after the dinner was due to start, and by the time everyone was seated everything was already an hour behind time. That may explain why the waiters were not as careful as they should be and, to the annoyance of the maître d’, placed bottles of water on the table instead of automatically pouring into glasses that had been emptied. It may also explain the absence of the smoked goose breast, which had been listed as part of the main course on the menu.
The reason for the delay was that Hernandez was meeting with Palestinians – not Mahmoud Abbas, Rami Hamdallah or Saeb Erekat, but Palestinians who also enjoy Honduras citizenship.
Hernandez came to Israel with a large entourage that included his wife, Ana Garcia Hernandez, Secretary of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Arturo Corrales Alvarez, Secretary of Infrastructure and Public Services Robert Antonio Ordonez, Secretary of Agricultural Affairs Jacobo Paz Bodden, and Secretary of National Defense Samuel Reyes, along with various businesspeople.
Also at the dinner were some of the heads of foreign diplomatic missions, most obviously Honduras Ambassador José Isaias Barahona as well as Henrique da Silveira Sardinha Pinto, the ambassador of Brazil; Fanny Velasquez Gonzalez, the chargé d’affaires of Costa Rica; and Werner Romero, ambassador-designate of El Salvador.
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Also present was the head of the Delegation of the European Union, Lars Faaborg-Andersen.
Among the Israeli past and present ambassadors, in addition to Arbell, were Yosef Govrin, Mordechai Palzur, Modi Ephraim, Lior Haiat and Meron Reuben, who is currently chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry. There were two rabbis among the guests, one of whom was Yishai Dieck, the former chief rabbi of Honduras, who made aliya four-and-a-half years ago and lives in Ramle. The other was former MK Dov Lipman, who wasn’t quite sure why he had been invited, given the only Spanish he knows is “Si, senor.”
Israel and Honduras have enjoyed diplomatic relations for 69 years, and Arbell expressed appreciation to Hernandez for the many Jews saved from death in the Holocaust by consuls of Honduras who supplied them with the documents that saved their lives. Hernandez pledged that Honduras will always stand with Israel in every international forum.
■ ON THE following day, Hernandez, who has a pastor in his party, met with Rivlin, who, in welcoming Hernandez and his contingent to Jerusalem, told them that since 1967, people of every faith have the right to pray in Jerusalem. As a former communications minister, Rivlin added, he could advise them that if they want to utter a prayer to Heaven while in Jerusalem, it is only a local call.
■ IN THE glut of ambassadorial comings and goings, five new ambassadors will present their credentials to Rivlin next Monday. They are Peter Hulenyi of Slovakia, Jon Hanssen Bauer of Norway, Periyasamy Pillai Selvaraj of Sri Lanka, Allison Kelly of Ireland and nonresident Osman Keh Kamara of Sierra Leone, who is based in Ethiopia and is also his country’s permanent representative to the African Union. A week later there will be another group of new ambassadors presenting their letters of credence, and there are still more waiting, though Nitza Raz, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department, is not sure whether to hold the next ceremony in December or whether she will wait for the new year to usher in the next group of envoys.
■ AS STATED previously in this column, when one makes a mistake, one gets a better idea of who is reading. In the Wednesday Grapevine, mention was made of the fact that Netanyahu had erred in stating that Zionism was a hundred years old, given that the First Zionist Congress was in 1897. But reader Ida Selavan Schwarcz of Ganei Omer points out that the Zionist Congress was not the first expression of the Zionist movement.
The organization of Hovevei Zion, founded in 1882, was influenced by a number of precursors: Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer (1795-1874), whose book Drishat Zion was published in 1862; Moses Hess (1812-1875), whose Rome and Jerusalem was also published in 1862; Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai (1798- 1878); Moshe Leib Lilienblum, who wrote “The General Jewish Question and Eretz-Israel” (1881); and Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever (1824-1898), who declared that only in Eretz Yisrael could the Torah be fully observed.
■ ISRAEL’S MOST famous fashion designer, Alber Elbaz, who for 14 years has been the creative director at the famous Lanvin fashion house in Paris, has been ousted from his position, according to a report in Women’s Wear Daily.
A Shenkar College graduate who caught the eye of fashion icons in the United States and Paris, where he became an icon in his own right, the Moroccan-born Elbaz never forgot his career origins and returned to Israel time and again to participate in Shenkar fashion galas or in important Israeli fashion shows, such as the recent Gindi TLV Fashion Week or the Dream Weavers exhibition last year at Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People.
Without mentioning Shaw-Lan Wang, the Taiwanese publishing tycoon who had brought him on board 14 years ago to revitalize Lanvin, which is one of the most veteran couture houses in Paris, Elbaz in a statement said that his departure was “the decision of the company’s majority shareholder.”
A statement released by Lanvin thanked Elbaz for the chapter he had written for the house, adding that it had ceased its collaboration with him. However, the Spring-Summer 2016 collection which was shown shortly before the severing of relations, will bear the Elbaz influence, unless a new collection is hurriedly put together by whoever happens to be his successor. Many of the people who had worked with Elbaz wept when they heard that he would longer be the captain of their team.
Rumor has it that Elbaz may be snapped up Dior, whose own creative director, Raf Simons, resigned earlier this month after having worked there for three-and-a-half years. And if not Dior, Elbaz will not remain unemployed for long. His reputation and his talent are such that several French fashion houses will be delighted to put him on their payroll.
■ TO SPARE her family additional grief over her loss, veteran journalist Diana Lerner, whose career spanned some six decades, was buried on Monday only a few hours after her death.
An amazing character for whom all doors were open, whether willingly or unwillingly, Lerner’s career history is one of personal triumph, given that she never learned to use a computer. One of the first freelance journalists in Israel, the Hungarian-born, New York-bred Lerner wrote for almost every daily publication in Israel, as well as for several periodicals and for niche publications in England and the United States.
All her articles for Hebrew publications were written in English, even though she had attended the Herzlia Hebrew Teachers Institute in New York, where her teacher had been the great Hebraist Daniel Persky, who was related to Shimon Peres. Though she had no trouble understanding Hebrew, her spoken Hebrew was just a little better than her typing, which was far from perfect.
Her typing never improved and her handwriting was so scratchy that it was almost impossible to decipher. It is a testament to her journalistic ability that so many editors of so many different publications were willing to put up with copy that was full of typographical errors and handwritten scratch marks, where a word or a sentence had been added or substituted.
One of her nieces, Rhea Applbaum of Rehovot, recalled this week that Lerner used to correspond with a vast number of people, one of whom was an elderly professor at the State University of New York, who wrote to her that despite his advanced age, he had mastered the computer keyboard and suggested that she do the same because her handwriting was atrocious. Friends tried to persuade her to learn how to use a computer, but she stubbornly stuck to her typewriter, which no longer worked very well, which made it even more difficult to read her copy.
Publisher Murray Greenfield, a friend for more than half a century, said at her funeral that she refused to come to terms with modern technology. When she needed to have something typed clean and free of any markings, she turned to her niece Toby Atlas, who is computer savvy. If Toby wasn’t around, Lerner prevailed on one of the attendants in the business lounge of the Dan Tel Aviv hotel, which was one of three hotels that were her homes away from home. The other two were the Sheraton and the Hilton, all within easy walking distance of her third-floor walk-up apartment on Tel Aviv’s Ben-Yehuda Street.
Lerner loved to walk, and even at age 90 used to walk along the beach promenade all the way to Jaffa and back.
Aside from the many celebrities and dignitaries that she interviewed, Lerner was way ahead of other journalists in entering forbidden territory to do stories, and was already doing stories in the mikve (ritual bath) and in the Turkish baths and getting herself arrested.
Until she was in her late 80s, Lerner returned annually to the Big Apple to maintain friendships and professional contacts.
She used to work on publicity campaigns for Federation and United Jewish Appeal to boost her Social Security benefits.
Lerner was chutzpah personified. She not only managed to get into the most exclusive events without an invitation or with an invitation for one only, but took relatives and friends with her. “Just look as if you belong,” she told them, as she swept past administrative staff and security guards. Her sister Rosalind Groob remembered that without trying too hard, Lerner was able to persuade other people to do things for her. Not only did they do her typing when necessary, but also her laundry, her cleaning and even her cooking. Wherever she went in Tel Aviv, people knew her and stopped her in the street to chat. She remained eternally young in spirit and never lost her sense of adventure. She truly was the last of the Mohicans.
■ BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT and Sanctions movement attempts to persuade international chefs to desist from participating in the Round Tables Gastrodiplomacy event taking place in Tel Aviv during the month of November will result in indigestion for the movement and gastronomic delights for people who choose to dine in Tel Aviv.
The Round Tables by American Express is an international culinary project aimed at introducing top-ranking chefs and restaurateurs from around the world to Israeli food connoisseurs – or simply to people who like to eat and are on the lookout for interesting palate-pleasers.
Chefs will be flying in from New York, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Rome and Athens to cook their signature culinary creations, and to pick up a few hints on Israeli cuisine. Round Tables begins on November 1 with Michelin star chefs Pino Kau and Marco Martini of Rome’s Stazione di Posta coping with kashrut in the Lumina kitchen of Israeli celebrity chef Meir Adoni. It won’t be quite as challenging for New Yorkers Phil Winser and Joe Capozzi of the Big Apple’s The Fat Radish, who will be cooking with Shaul Aderet at The Blue Rooster, because they don’t have to worry about what’s kosher, just about what tastes good.
Most of the tickets for Round Tables have been sold, and of course there are other chefs from other countries cooking at other restaurants later in the month. There may be a cancellation here and there, so anyone who wants to experience Round Tables dining can google Round Tables to learn if there’s room for them at the table as well.
■ BILLIONAIRE PHILANTHROPIST Mort Mandel, 94, is on a frequent commute from the United States to Israel for the purpose of giving away his family’s money. Mandel and his brothers, Jack and Joseph, formed the Mandel Foundation, through which they give away tens of millions of dollars every year – mostly for educational and cultural causes in Israel and the US. On his most recent visit this past week, Mandel, who is chairman of the foundation, came for the cornerstone and ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new campus of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in downtown Jerusalem. The whole project is budgeted at around $100 million, and the Mandel Foundation has a 25 percent stake in the construction. In other words, the foundation has provided $25m.
Among those on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony were Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and his wife, Beverly, who doesn’t always accompany him to events of this kind, but this time she had a special interest, because she herself is a Bezalel alumnus.
Also present were Dan Meridor, chairman of the Bezalel executive board and Japanese Ambassador Shigeo Matsutomi and of course Prof. Adi Stern, who is the president of Bezalel.
Stern said that the fact that the academy will be located in downtown Jerusalem will bring new vitality to the area, given the many students that the new facility will be able to accommodate. Many of them will be living in apartments close to the campus and will patronize downtown coffee shops, restaurants, mini markets et al. Their presence will give a new vibrant feel to the city, he said.
■ FORMER US president Bill Clinton, who arrived in Israel on Thursday afternoon to speak at the Rabin memorial rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, will not be staying in the country after the rally. He is flying back to the US straight afterward to help in his wife’s presidential campaign. Hilary Clinton still has quite a few hurdles ahead of her, and in an election run, anything can happen.
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