ALTHOUGH 27 years have passed since the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, for Israelis - especially those born in Egypt - that historic event still has the freshness of a dream come true. So said Levana Zamir, president of the Israel-Egypt Friendship Association, at a festive anniversary gathering in Tel Aviv.
In attendance were Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai; Egyptian Ambassador Assem Ibrahim Muhammad; former foreign minister Silvan Shalom; former ambassadors to Egypt; senior members of the Egyptian Embassy, and several heads of foreign diplomatic missions in Israel.
Muhammad spoke in both Arabic and English, expressing his appreciation to the former Israel ambassadors to Egypt and noting that the relationship between Egypt and Israel has grown stronger and deeper and is capable of facing all challenges "till we reach a comprehensive peace in this part of the world."
Shalom, in turn, emphasized the improvement in relations between the two countries since Muhammad's arrival. He noted that 123 Israeli firms are currently operating in Egypt.
Shalom also credited President Hosni Mubarak with playing an integral role in Israel's disengagement plan. "Without President Mubarak and others we could not have implemented the disengagement plan," he said.
After the formalities came the folklore. Young folk dancers performed traditional Israeli and hassidic dances to enthusiastic applause, after which there was a switch in the mood and rhythm, with three generations of dancers from the audience spontaneously demonstrating their belly dancing techniques.
FOLLOWING THE publication four years ago of her book The Ambassador's Wife, Michelle Mazel - who at that time confined her text to the period that she spent in Egypt as the wife of ambassador Zvi Mazel - decided on a more ambitious undertaking. She is now in the process of completing a new book detailing four decades of her life married to a diplomat - including giving birth in far-flung countries, adapting to new languages and customs, joining the kitchen staff in preparing important dinners, being caught in a revolution and many other interesting and revealing details.
THE CHANGE in the Polish government cut short the tour of duty of Polish Ambassador Jan Piekarski. As it was, Piekarski would have completed his assignment in mid-summer when he reached mandatory retirement age, but the new government was not prepared to give him the few months of grace that would have brought his long and distinguished diplomatic career to its planned-for conclusion.
The dapper Piekarski and his wife Graz'yna held a farewell reception at the ambassadorial residence in Kfar Shmaryahu last Friday, that was attended by several ambassadors from East European countries and by Israelis of Polish background. To them, Piekarski has been, in the words of journalist, novelist and playwright Roman Frister, "not only a diplomat, but a friend."
Mordechai Palzur, who was Israel's first ambassador to Poland after the renewal of diplomatic relations, recalled how helpful Piekarski was in facilitating the passage of Soviet Jews traveling via Poland to Israel. The operation would have been impossible without the approval of the Polish Foreign Ministry, said Palzur, who recalled that Piekarski had been the chief liaison between the Ministry and Israeli officials such as Palzur and the late Simcha Dinitz, who at the time was chairman of the Jewish Agency.
Piekarski will be replaced by female ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, who will integrate easily, not only because Israel's Polish community is so welcoming, but because she happens to be a personal friend of internationally published writer Miriam Akavia, the president of the Israel-Poland Friendship Society.
AT THE end of November, 2005, nonagenarian Stanley Batkin's photography exhibition featuring portraits of 100 Israeli artists was opened at the Tel Aviv Museum, where it is still on view. Batkin is a New York native who still drives his car and is an active participant on the executive boards of numerous organizations. He travels to Israel at least twice a year, and came yet again for the launch.
Batkin, who has been an ardent photographer since receiving a camera as a bar mitzva gift, has combined his passion for photography with his love for Israel. During his many visits he has photographed more than 20,000 Israelis from all walks of life and from various ethnic backgrounds. Some of these photographs are included in a new exhibition "Faces of Israel" that opened this week in The Constantiner Gallery at New York's Center for Jewish History. The photo exhibition includes archeologists, artists, diplomats, business executives, presidents, prime ministers and mayors of Israel with their respective spouses, professors, philanthropists, judges, writers, etc.
ELECTIONS ASIDE, Shimon Peres continues to have an amazingly charismatic effect on the crowd. At the Bahai New Year celebrations last week, Peres was quickly encircled by groups of admirers, many of whom asked to be photographed with him. At a Foreign Press Association briefing, Peres didn't really say anything new and no one really expected him to - but the foreign correspondents turned out in force to hear him.
On the campaign trail in recent weeks, Peres has been seen in many parts of the country - and almost always surrounded by hordes of people. At diplomatic affairs, foreign envoys make a bee-line for him.
AFTER CELEBRATING his 70th birthday in New York and Los Angeles, it's time for Maestro Zubin Mehta to celebrate in Israel. All the celebrations to date, including the one planned for April 10 by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Foundation and the Friends of Tel Aviv University, have been in advance of the real date of his birthday - April 29. Mehta will conduct the festive concert at the Mann Auditorium with violinist Pinchas Zuckerman, the IPO and the Symphony Orchestra of the Buchman-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University. The concert will be followed by a gala dinner in the foyer of the auditorium, with organizers promising a load of surprises.
BANK LEUMI CEO Galia Maor drew a respectable crowd at the 20th anniversary fundraiser for The Child in Placement, for which see serves as chairwoman. The organization has decided to change its name to Children of Chance, which carries a stronger message than the former title. In either case, the organization continues to work for the welfare of children who are in peril and must be placed in youth villages and other healthy educational environments.
The 20th anniversary was celebrated with a benefit concert at the Mann Auditorium featuring Rami Kleinstein, Ivri Lieder and Shiri Maimon. Major donors included Nochi Dankner, Dori Dankner, Ami Erel, Jonathan Kolber, Rami Nussbaum and Shlomo Nechama.
AFTER RECEIVING numerous prizes and awards, helping to develop the Galilee, establishing a business network that earned him a respectable placement in the Forbes 500 list, entering into joint business ventures with important international companies around the world, setting up industrial parks, launching a school for entrepreneurs and an institute for industrial education, and toying with politics, one would think that at 80, Stef Wertheimer, who in 1937 escaped Hitler's Germany with his parents and siblings, had seen it all. Well, not quite. Wertheimer will be one of 13 beacon lighters at the ceremony that ushers in Independence Day.
The focus of this year's Israel Independence Day celebrations is the development of the Galilee and the Negev, with beacon lighters representing these two target areas of future Jewish settlement.