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DUE TO the fact that Shabbat goes out late these days, the gala dinner hosted by Hadassah International in honor of Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, his wife Ariane and the long relationship between Hadassah and the Rothschild family was timed to start at nine p.m. last Saturday night. The Rothschilds didn't make their grand entrance till after 9:30.
When the Rothschilds entered the Mercaz Shimshon banquet hall overlooking the old city of Jerusalem they received a standing ovation, but their welcome didn't compare to the enthusiastic approbation that greeted Hadassah International founder Bernice S. Tannenbaum, who presided over the evening's proceedings.
Feisty but ladylike, the nonagenarian Tannenbaum has devoted most of her life to Hadassah and has inspired tens of thousands of people to support Hadassah. In introducing Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director-general of the Hadassah Medical Organization, Tannenbaum described him as "a fairly new star on television." (During the initial period of former prime minister Ariel Sharon's hospitalization at Hadassah, Mor-Yosef regularly updated the world media on Sharon's condition, and became such a familiar face on screen that he was lampooned on Eretz Nehederet, the most highly rated satirical show on television in Israel.)
As for the guests of honor, Tannenbaum lauded their clarity of vision, coupled with their will and power to make change. They are particularly supportive of higher education, research centers, hospitals and schools, said Tannenbaum, emphasizing that Ariane de Rothschild is a great advocate for dialogue, which she believes can solve problems in areas of conflict.
Dubbing Tannenbaum "a true inspiration," Ariane de Rothschild voiced the hope that she would have the same energy, enthusiasm and belief when she reaches Tannenbaum's age. As for Hadassah, she called the medical organization "the realization of the dream: a model of understanding - the way to bridge gaps."
Itzhak Levanon, Israel's Geneva-based Ambassador to the United Nations and a friend of the Rothschilds, said of the Baron's great-grandfather, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild: "He changed the course of history in our region." Levanon characterized the Rothschilds as "generous, supportive and committed" and spoke of their devotion to their four daughters. "He follows his great grandfather's vision," said Levanon.
Slightly embarrassed by the accolades, Baron Benjamin de Rothschild declared that the real work was done by people on the ground. Alluding to the Palestinians, he said: "You have to live with the people next door - and it has to work."
With reference to his great grandfather's impact on the history and development of the region, he made the somewhat surprising revelation that when his grandfather purchased land in Caesarea, it was not for the Jews alone. "It was for Jews and Arabs as a refuge from the British."
ANYONE INVITED for to the Ramat Gan residence of British Ambassador Simon McDonald to join in celebrating the 80th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth would have heard the party long before they reached the house.
The sound of the bagpipes could be heard for quite some distance, long before the reception was due to start. Piper Maj. Gordon Brown flew in for the occasion and dressed in full regalia, including the dagger stuck inside the knee-sock on his right leg.
Inside the house was a wonderful photographic exhibition of the Queen's life from infancy to the present day. The last two photographs were of the Queen with the late President Chaim Herzog and his wife Aura and of the Queen with the late President Ezer Weizman. A television team roaming the grounds was particularly keen to talk to anyone who had actually met the Queen.
Among those who had was Fay Morris, the former British Honorary Consul in Eilat, who had been awarded an MBE and had gone to England to personally receive the honor from the Queen. When they were introduced, Morris was described as the Honorary Consul in Eilat, with no mention of Israel.
"Where exactly is Eilat?" queried Her Majesty.
"It's in the south of Israel next door to Aqaba," replied Morris.
"I've been to Aqaba," said the Queen.
"We'd like to have you come to Eilat," said Morris.
"I'd like that," said the Queen - and of course, that was the end of that. There has never been an official royal visit to Israel, something which Her Majesty's subjects in this country find disconcerting in view of the fact that she and other royals have been to other places in the region. Several peeved Brits commented that it was high time for a royal visit.
It was somewhat difficult for guests to conduct conversations over the sound of the music of The Stompers Dixieland Jazz Band, led by septuagenarian Stanley Ross, who has been playing at British Embassy functions for many years but claimed that this was his swan song. Last year, when Ross turned 75, he announced that he was going into retirement, but fans kept begging him to do one more gig, which of course developed into several, including the Queen's Birthday bash. To British Embassy officials who bade him farewell at the end of the evening, saying "See you next year," Ross replied: "I don't think so."
Among the many representatives of the diplomatic community was Irish Ambassador Michael Forbes, who made a valiant effort to attend, given that he had organized an event at his own residence - a piano recital by visiting classical pianist Micael O'Rourke. Explaining his presence, Forbes said: "One has to take care of one's European friends. It's part of our solidarity if we celebrate together."
McDonald started the formal proceedings with a speech in Hebrew. Usually he starts a speech in Hebrew, he said, but those who knew him were aware that he doesn't always finish in Hebrew. This year being his last before he returns to England, he decided to deliver his whole speech in Hebrew. Even though he doesn't really speak the language, he acquitted himself well both in grammar and pronunciation.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who represented the government, spoke in English. Both made the usual comments about the strong ties, friendship, understanding and cooperation between their two countries, but McDonald won loud applause when he stated that Britain and the international community would do everything possible to bridge the differences between Israel and the Palestinians.
Livni referred to the threats and challenges confronting Israel in her aspirations to live in peace and security and underscored that these could be overcome with the combined efforts of Israel and the international community. On a personal level, she noted that McDonald had made "a profound contribution" to relations between Israel and the UK through his "charm, dedication and caring. We're going to miss you," she said.
During the singing of the national anthems, McGregor and his wife Olivia, as they did last year, lustily sang Hatikva. Livni did not reciprocate with God Save the Queen.
WHILE MOST embassies have trimmed down the guest lists for their national day events, the South African Embassy seems to be an exception to the rule, judging by the time it took for last of the guests in the long reception line to reach Ambassador Fumanekile Gqiba and offer congratulations on the anniversary of South Africa's Freedom Day. It took more than an hour for the line to dissipate.
Quoting United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan, Gqiba described his country as "a beacon of tolerance, peaceful coexistence and mutual respect, symbolizing the remarkable African wisdom and the gift for reconciliation and forgiveness."
The message to Israel and the Palestinians was loud and clear, albeit not direct. But in case anyone had missed the point, Gquiba also quoted South Africa's most celebrated freedom fighter, former President Nelson Mandela, who attributed his country's successful transition to a new dawn to an absence of hatred.
"By refusing to be blinded by our past, we have entered the age of hope," said Mandela. The South African Government cares deeply about the peace and security of Israel, he said, and will devote its resources towards trying to achieve peace and security for both Israel and the Palestinians. Israel, he added, is South Africa's 12th largest trading partner in the world and the biggest in the region.
Representing the government of Israel in one of her last official duties was outgoing deputy minister for the interior Ruhama Abraham, who noted that Freedom Day symbolizes South Africa's commitment to democracy and its respect for liberty.