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AN APPOINTMENT to serve as the ambassador of Kazakhstan to Israel is apparently a springboard to greater things. Byrganym Aitimova, who was her country's first ambassador to Israel and dean of the diplomatic corps, was later promoted to vice prime minister, but is currently minister of education and science. Her successor, Kairat Abdrakhmanov returned home earlier this month to accept his new appointment as deputy foreign minister. It was a rather sudden move, with a farewell party on the eve of the departure hosted by Lev Leviev, the honorary consul for Kazakhstan, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Tel Aviv.
Abdrakhmanov and his wife Maira, both very personable people, made a lot of good friends for themselves and for Kazakhstan in Israel, and the large turn-out at the hastily organized late afternoon farewell was an extremely visible testimony to their popularity. Maira, a journalist by profession, made a documentary together with Yvsei Trostantski and Boris Zylberman of Start Art Cinema Israel. The trio produced a 29-minute Russian-language documentary (with Hebrew subtitles) under the title Israel Without War, to show the Russian-speaking world a different perspective of day-to-day life in Israel.
Unable to contain his emotions during the send-off, Abdrakhmanov declared: "I and Maira and my family love everyone here. I am very thankful to destiny for giving me the opportunity to work and live in this wonderful country."
During his term in his Israel, he added, he had gained many wonderful friends who had helped him greatly. "My family fell in love with Israel and the Israelis," he said. His small daughter does not remember any other home than the one in Herzliya Pituah, he said, and his son had graduated high school and entered university in Israel.
Expressing pride in the achievements of Kazakhstan expatriates in Israel and in the establishment of a bi-national chamber of commerce, Abdrakhmanov concluded his remarks with wishes for true peace in the Middle East and quoted the poignant, centuries-old Hebrew lines of poet Yehuda Halevy: "My heart is in the East and I am in the West."
IN KEEPING with the tradition of several of the countries of the former Soviet Union, the highest form of respect that can be paid by anyone in Kazakhstan to someone who is revered is to cloak them in the national costume - an opulent, fully lined, wine red velvet robe, richly embroidered in gold. At Abdrakhmanov's instigation, members of the Kazakhstan Embassy presented the robe to Leviev together with a matching Napoleon-style hat. Leviev looked a little embarrassed as he was clad in the attire of the nobles, especially when one of the locals chortled: "Purim!"
ONE OF the last guests to arrive at the Kazakhstan reception was Korean Ambassador Kyungtark Park, who returned home last week after having received Abdrakhmanov's good wishes at his own farewell reception a few days earlier. In the evening Park and his wife the artist Jaesoong Kang were in Jerusalem to attend the opening of the small but spectacular exhibition of traditional Korean costumes created by the vivacious Ill Soon-Lee, one of Korea's foremost designers of contemporary hanbok based on traditional concepts. The hanbok, not to be confused with the Japanese kimono, is made up of a bouffant, high-waisted, wrap-around skirt, with a bolero-like jacket, the sleeves of which are exquisitely embroidered.
A lot of Israelis may be unaware of the fact that Israel has a small, Hebrew-speaking Korean population, whose fluency in the language took many of the locals by surprise. Before leaving Israel, Kang, whose works created in Israel include three paintings of the Western Wall, parted with two of them. One was given to the Foreign Ministry's Chief of Protocol Yitzhak Eldan, and the other to Beit Hanassi.
ALSO JOINING the diplomatic exodus is Krinka Vidakovic-Petrov, the ambassador of Serbia-Montenegro who is due to leave next month, prior to her country's referendum on whether Serbia and Montenegro should be separated. Vidakovic-Petrov is inclined to believe that the status quo will remain unchanged.
ALTHOUGH THE invitation to the Friends of Beth Hatefutsoth Friday morning concert at the residence of Italian Ambassador Sandro de Bernardin had been issued by the ambassador, the task of welcoming the guests was left to his wife Anna, who apologized that Friday was a working day for him and that he was busy taking care of bilateral relations. Anna de Bernardin was lavish in expressing her appreciation to FBH chairperson Edith Teomim who had introduced her to the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, "where there is always something new and interesting to discover." She was happy to be able to do something for the museum, she said as she wished her guests "Shabbat Shalom."
Singers Limor Shapira and Adi Etzion-Zak were accompanied on the piano by Prof. Jonathan Zak of the Buchman Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University. Their repertoire traveled through operettas, to cabaret to musicales in a harmonious history lesson narrated by the charming and coquettish Shapira, whose enormous affection for Etzion-Zack, who was her first teacher, was electric. The two singers also proved their linguistic abilities by singing in French, Italian, German, English and Hebrew.
THE CARDS appeared to be stacked in favor of Pnina Levin, at the recent Golden Age Beauty contest organized by the irrepressible Shalva Ben-Gal, who has initiated many similar non-mainstream events in addition to producing Israeli fashion shows at home and abroad. Levin is the grandmother of international supermodel Bar Rafaeli. The resemblance is unmistakable, but the gene syndrome apparently doesn't work in reverse, and the good-looking grandma, along with several other very attractive golden agers didn't win any of the titles in the contest. The winner was Rimona Shalom, 70, a pre-school teacher and dancer from Tirat Hacarmel. First runner-up Golden Age Beauty Queen was Aviva Yitzhaki, 63 from Ramat Gan, and the second runner-up was Miriam Bosem, 60, from Kfar Monash. It has become fashionable in many Israeli talent quests, beauty contests and reality shows to allow the audience to pick their favorite which may coincide with the choice of the professional adjudicators, or may result in someone from left field emerging the winner. In this instance, the audience gave its vote to Sara Wallfish, 93, from Givatayim. Miss Israel, eat your heart out.
IN A briefing that she gave to the Foreign Press Association, Deputy Immigration and Absorption Minister Marina Solodkin quipped that there's a joke in the Knesset that she got off the plane, headed for the Knesset and went straight into politics. It wasn't quite as fast as that, but her entry into the Knesset was a lot quicker than that of native born Israelis. Solodkin arrived in Israel in 1991 and by 1996, she was an MK. Had the universities been more liberal in their attitude to academics from the former Soviet Union, Solodkin might never have become a parliamentarian. She came to politics through the struggle of immigrant scientists who couldn't get into the universities which in Israel at that time "were closed elitist clubs that certainly were not open to immigrants from the Soviet Union."
ALL THE major television channels are busy preparing for their election night coverage. At Channel 1, they may be using several new techniques, but they're sticking to a long-standing tradition. Haim Yavin, who has been the election night anchor for more than three decades, and who announced the 1977 political turn-around when Israel's first-ever right-wing triumph at the national ballot box resulted in Menachem Begin becoming prime minister, will once again be the election night anchor. Key commentators will include veteran news and current affairs broadcaster Yaacov Achimeir; Ayala Hasson, the Israel Broadcasting Authority's leading political reporter and analyst, who anchors her own shows on radio and television; and Yaron Dekel, the IBA's Washington correspondent, who is coming home for the occasion.
FOR THE second consecutive season, Castro, using its "Designed for Desire" slogan, is featuring its commercials in English. This time there's a little more innuendo as well as a nice bridging of the generation gap, with British-born actress Aviva Marks playing a very sophisticated, broad-minded grandmother.