FOR SOME eighteen months, the members of the Czech Embassy operated out of what they considered to be a diplomatic diaspora. They moved out of their premises in Rehov Zeitlin, a Tel Aviv residential area in the immediate vicinity of the beautifully kept Dan Family Park and two-minutes walk away from trendy Ibn Gvirol to a modern tower in Rehov Daniel Frisch. Their new neighbors included the embassies of Germany, Ireland, and Portugal.
While Czech Ambassador Michael Zantovsky was delighted to hobnob with his colleagues from other countries, he missed the comfort and familiarity of the original Czech premises which were being renovated at a cost of more than $2 million.
Czechoslovakia recognized the nascent State of Israel within the first five days of its existence, and soon afterward the Czechoslovakian government purchased a newly completed residential complex opposite an orange grove in Rehov Zeitlin, and converted it into a five-story embassy.
Over the years the premises fell into a state of disrepair, until it was finally decided that they needed a complete overhaul. This necessitated a temporary relocation. With the renovation work completed more or less on schedule, Zantovsky chose to combine the official opening of the renewed embassy replete with state-of-the art security and communications equipment with a black and white photo exhibition marking the 120th anniversary of the birth of Czechoslovakian foreign minister Jan Masaryk, who was a great supporter of the Zionist enterprise and highly in favor of the establishment of the State of Israel.
At one end of the embassy's conference room an interview with Masaryk emanated from an antique radio. At the other end, black and white newsreel footage captured some of the highlights of his life and also featured his father Tomas Masaryk who became the first President of Czechoslovakia. Watching the newsreel, Judith Steiner-Freud, director-emeritus of the Henrietta Szold Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Nursing, had tears in her eyes. She could still recall the funeral of Tomas Masaryk, she said, and declared Prague to be "the most beautiful city in the world." She grew up in a "wonderful" carefree environment, devoid of any hint of anti-Semitism, she added.
Similar sentiments were voiced by other Czech expatriates. Looking around the room, Arthur Avnon, a former Israel Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, quipped: "As a representative of the Israeli Government it is my obligation to say Leshana Haba Biyerushalayim - (Next year in Jerusalem)."
RECENTLY ARRIVED Ambassador of Uzbekistan, Farkhod Ibragimovich Khakimov, hosted his country's Independence Day celebrations at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv which has become one of the favored venues of ambassadors who are not utilizing their residences for such occasions. Like his predecessors, Khakimov enhanced the festivities by including an exhibition of paintings by Uzbekistan artists and photographs of Tashkent and Samarkand as well as a display of stringed instruments used in Uzbekistan folk music. The perpetuation of Uzbekistan's cultural heritage was evidenced in a much appreciated dance performance by adults and Israeli born children of immigrants from Uzbekistan, who were clad in traditional ornate costume and accompanied by native musicians. Uzbekistan prides itself on being a Muslim country which has in general been hospitable to its Jewish population, much of which migrated to Israel and the United States after the fall of Communism. An estimated 15,000-20,000 Jews still live in Uzbekistan, freely maintaining a Jewish lifestyle.
MEXICAN AMBASSADOR Carlos Rico, in a departure from the norm, hosted the 196th anniversary of Mexico's independence in a Friday afternoon reception in his hacienda-style residence in Herzliya Pituah. An awning had been suspended from the patio across the pool to the end of the garden to protect guests from the sun, and rectangular doilies in the Mexican national colors of red, green and white were strung between the palm trees. A sextet of Mexican musicians clad in huge sombreros, black pants and open vests, white shirts and bright red satin cummerbunds and floppy bowties, kept up a lively rendition of Mexican music. When they played "The Mexican Hat Dance," several of the guests spontaneously began to dance. Several of the women attending brought beautiful fans which added to the Mexican ambience. Rico remarked that when he had arrived in Israel, his friends had promised him that there would never be a dull moment - "and this is true."
Things had also been lively in Mexico, with 2006 an election year which had proved the vitality and strength of Mexican democracy, said Rico, noting that only a few days earlier Felipe Calderon had been elected as Mexico's new president. Although Calderon will not assume power till December 1, Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog, who was representing the government, took the opportunity to invite him to Israel, and urged that he bring thousands of Mexican tourists with him.