THE ENTRANCE to the banquet room at the David Intercontinental Hotel was crowded on Wednesday evening with a huge array of people waiting their turn to congratulate Kazakhstan Ambassador Vadim Zverkov on the 15th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence.
The Kazakhstan Independence Day festivities have always been big affairs from the very beginning of the arrival in Israel of Kazakhstan's first ambassador, the extraordinary and charismatic Byrganym Aitimova, who went on to become her country's deputy prime minister and in the present government serves as education and science minister.
Her successor, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, now deputy minister of foreign affairs, hosted even bigger parties, and the current ambassador maintains an even larger guest list. Part of the d cor leading into the banquet area was a large archway of balloons in Kazakhstan's national colors of turquoise and gold. Although some people asked for other doors to be opened to ease the congestion, embassy staff remained adamant that everyone most go through the archway to shake hands with the ambassador and his wife. Unlike politicians, diplomats tend to be very well behaved, and they patiently stood waiting their turns along with members of Israel's Kazakhstan community. However, one man pushed his way through the crowd. Gaby Levy, the personal assistant to National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer had come to clear a path for his boss.
Somewhat surprised, the Foreign Ministry's chief of protocol Itzhak Eldan demurred mildly and said: "But [Shimon] Peres is coming to speak." To which Levy retorted: "I don't give a damn about Peres. I'm interested in getting Fuad [Ben-Eliezer's nickname] to the ambassador." Moments later, Ben-Eliezer, surrounded by a coterie of lackeys, made his appearance. He'd been at a meeting with a visiting Turkish minister, and now it was time to change geography and move in the direction of Kazakhstan. He posed for the photo-op, went inside the banquet room for a few minutes, but didn't stay around for the speeches. Peres, who less than a week earlier had flown to Washington for the Saban conference and had come home via Paris where he attended the Le Web conference, was in fine fettle, and as usual spoke without notes, then continued on to the Tel Aviv Commercial and Industrial Club which was meeting next door at the Dan Panorama, where he shared the limelight with Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu. Both men were asked to give their individual assessments of where Israel is going.
At the Kazakhstan festivities, meanwhile, Zverkov greeted his guests in Hebrew before switching to English.
"You're all aware of Kazakhstan today and the significance its people attach to Israel," he said, while carefully avoiding any mention of Borat, who speaks Hebrew instead of Kazakh in the hit Sacha Baron Cohen movie.
Zverkov noted the speed of Kazakhstan's transition from a country with communist ideals to one with liberal ideals with a multi-cultural society, a healthy economy, a wealth of natural resources and enormous initiative. "We have joined the club of the world's most competitive nations," he said.
Israel, he recalled, was one of the first countries to recognize Kazakhstan after it achieved independence, so the Independence Day anniversary was also a celebration of Kazakhstan's relations with Israel.
Bilateral trade between the two countries currently stands at $800 million and will increase through the efforts of a Kazakh science, technology and investment office established in Tel Aviv. Zverkov also expressed thanks to a series of ministers for their personal efforts in promoting closer ties between the two countries as well as Chief Rabbis Yona Metzger (who was present) and Shlomo Amar, as well as many figures the business community. Peres, who visited Kazakhstan in June to attend the summit meeting of the Conference on Interactions and Confidence Building Measures in Asia founded by Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, described the country as fascinating. He noted that its name derives from two words: "Kazakh," which means horse, and "stan," which means state. The horse, he said, represented the free spirit which Nazarbayev is trying to maintain while moving his country forward. "He's doing a wonderful job," said Peres, commending Nazarbayev not only for considerably improving the incomes of his country's citizens and his efforts towards peace, understanding and tolerance, but also for his wonderful singing voice. The Kazakhs are known for their beautiful voices and Peres said that listening to Nazarbayev sing at the conference with leaders of other countries happily joining in took him back to his kibbutz days, when everyone got together for community singing.
THE INVITATION issued by Japanese Ambassador Yoshinori Katori was for the birthday celebration of His Majesty, Emperor Akhihito, who will be turning 73 on December 23, but guests could have been excused for thinking that it was a promotion for Israel's famed jewelry, fashion and accessories designer, Michal Negrin, who Kastori said is extremely popular in Japan. Negrin, who happens to be a great niece of Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, has nine exquisite boutiques in Japan, and according to Katori she's a great hit with Japanese young women as well as with Japanese men. As an example, he pointed to his tie and cuff links that were both from the Michal Negrin range. Relations between Israel and Japan received real stimulus with the visit almost six months ago of then prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, said Katori, who announced that he wants to encourage his friends and more of his fellow countrymen to visit Israel.
The Japanese are known as great travelers, but of 70 million Japanese who traveled abroad last year, only 8,329 visited Israel. Katori admitted that before his own arrival in Israel in September, he didn't know much about the country, and found it to be "an eye opener" in terms of natural beauty and heritage. Speaking of the Middle East in general, Katori commented on the cultural richness of the region, adding: "If we can establish peace and stability more people will come to visit." In this context, he mentioned Japan's contribution to the peace process, both as a donor country that through its humanitarian aid helps to improve the living standards of the Palestinian population, and for its work toward enhancing confidence-building measures between Israel and the Palestinians. He also referred to a Japanese initiative for an industrial federation between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.
While Katori's remarks were spontaneous, Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim read a prepared speech, explaining, "I prefer, especially nowadays, to read from the paper."
The allusion was to his childhood friend from Binyamina, Ehud Olmert, whose slips of the tongue are making international headlines. But even in "reading from the paper," Boim made a gaffe common to many Israelis when referring to the diplomatic corps; his unfortunate pronunciation was "corpse."
After congratulating the Japanese people and the emperor on the latter's birthday, Boim also conveyed the greetings of the Israeli government to Princess Kiko and Prince Akishino on the birth of baby Hisahito and wished health and happiness to the whole royal family. Like Katori, Boim referred to the visit of Koizumi, which he said had accelerated relations between the two countries, paving the way for more high level visits in both directions. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is due to visit Japan soon, he said, and Olmert may also visit some time in 2007.
GEORGIAN AMBASSADOR Lasha Zhvania is telling everyone to mark January 10 in their calendars. That's the date that the Georgian Embassy will join forces with Yad B'Yad (Hand in Hand) for a charity concert at the Tel Aviv Opera House to benefit homeless children and children at risk in Georgia and Israel. Yad B'Yad is a non-profit charity organization established in 1982 by Auschwitz survivor Shelly Hoshen, who is currently a member of the Tel Aviv City Council. The organization has set up several facilities to provide a happy, helpful and healthy environment for needy children from dysfunctional families.
MODESTY IS indeed a virtue, and sometimes the people who have the least reason to be modest are actually the most modest of all. Case in point is Warren Buffet, one of the most affluent people in the world, who made international headlines earlier this year when his Berkshire Hathaway company bought into 80 per cent of Iscar Metalworking to the tune of $4.5 billion.
Iscar chairman Eitan Wertheimer, speaking at the Globes Israel Business Conference in Tel Aviv last week, said that the Iscar deal had generated more media interest than any other venture in which Berkshire Hathaway had been involved. The impact was such that Buffet wrote to him: "Till I met you Eitan, I was nobody."
To those Israelis who are worried about foreign takeovers, Wertheimer pointed out that half of the board members of Berkshire Hathaway are Jewish and half of the investments made by Berkshire Hathaway are in Jewish-owned companies. As for Buffet's modesty, Wertheimer provided yet another example when he said that Buffet had asked him if it would be all right if he appointed one of his own people to the Iscar board.
SESSIONS AT the Globes conference covered many different topics. In one session entitled: "Spin to Win - Media Coverage in Times of Crisis" Nelson Schwartz, the European editor of Fortune magazine who has been on assignment in many parts of the world, said that Israel is the easiest place to work as a reporter.
"People not only want to talk, but they won't shut up," he said. Schwartz related that he was once interviewing Binyamin Netanyahu during the latter's stint as finance minister. He had all the information he wanted and was ready to wrap up the interview, especially after Netanyahu's spokesman had indicated that the boss's time was precious and that he had other commitments. But Netanyahu was on a roll, and he kept talking and talking and talking - for another half an hour.
AT THE same session, Reuters CEO Thomas Glocer, still smarting from the credibility fall-out of a doctored photograph from Lebanon during the recent war, said that Reuters was introducing a new preventive solution, an Adobe and Cannon combination of hardware and software that would provide a trail for digital software enabling total and full transparency of Reuters work. On a different tack, Glocer spoke of the effects of blogging on the communications industry. For too long, the public was a face without a voice, he said. The Internet has made it possible for everyone to have a voice. The risk that the industry faces, he noted, is that the victim could be the truth and fact-based journalism.
FORTUNE TELLERS, astrologers and so-called wonder rabbis have quite a lot of high powered, high profile business executives among their clients and acquaintances. It's doubtful how many banking executives and people in other areas of high finance would admit to seeking such consultancy services - but the proof of the pudding may have been in the surprise 40th birthday party which serial acquisitions maven Nochi Dankner, who holds the controlling interest in I.D.B. threw for famed psychic Rabbi Yaacov Ifergen, more commonly known as 'Harentgen' (The X-Ray) because of his uncanny ability to discern what people are thinking, as wells as the nature and cause of their physical complaints. The fact that the guest list was top heavy with people in high finance spoke volumes.
Dankner himself made no secret of his close connection with Ifergen, and said that after Ifergen had correctly forecast eight years ago that Dankner would go through a major crisis but would recover, he had made a point of staying in frequent contact with him. Dankner who is known to be a big philanthropist, who gives generously to many causes, said that Ifergen is also a big donor, but less is known about his charitable work because he prefers to give in secret.
CONGRATULATIONS ARE in order to a somewhat more famous psychic than Ifergen. Uri Geller, who is searching for a successor via a reality show on Channel 2, today celebrates his 60th birthday. Congratulations are also due to MK Ahmed Tibi, who celebrated his 48th birthday yesterday. Some other well known figures celebrating birthdays next week include Aura Herzog, Yaffa Yarkoni and Moshe Arens.
CONGREGANTS AT Jerusalem's Hazvi Yisrael synagogue have the option of praying at one of three services: the early morning, the regular or the late. Last Saturday, two of the congregants at the late service happened to be US Senator Joe Lieberman and his wife Hadassah, who were invited by the congregation's president, Stuart Dove, to partake of the Kiddush upstairs. While there was indeed plenty of food left over from the Kiddush attended primarily by congregants who go to the regular service, most of them had already left, and the few who had stayed around to welcome Lieberman grew impatient and were descending the stairs just as he was being led up by Dove.
Although Dove entreated the departing congregants to go back upstairs, hardly anyone was in the mood, which made the situation more than a little embarrassing. The interesting thing is that Dove isn't even an American expat. He hails from Britain. During this current visit to Israel, Lieberman is scheduled to participate tomorrow in a Hanukka candle-lighting ceremony at the Mevasseret Zion Immigrant Absorption Center, where he will also learn about some of the problems and successes in absorbing immigrants from Ethiopia. He'll also get a taste of Ethiopian coffee.
JERUSALEM-BASED conductor Eli Jaffe has shared the stage at home and abroad with some of the greatest singers and musicians in the world, but that doesn't make him blas . On the contrary, he continues to be in awe of astounding talent. A singer, composer and musician in his own right, Jaffe has a long string of legendary heroes and heroines. Last week he had the chance to play with one of them, the internationally celebrated Polish-born violinist Ida Haendel, whose diminutive figure belies her greatness. Some of the members of the totally enraptured audience later had an opportunity to meet the gracious Haendel in person at a supper reception at Jaffe's home.
Jaffe and his wife Jacqueline often host such receptions when he conducts in Jerusalem. This time the concert hall was literally around the corner from their apartment, so Jaffe remained in his white tie and tails with his white tzitzit protruding from the sides of his black coat. His guests stood up and applauded when he entered the apartment, and did so again a few minutes later when Haendel and her cuddly dog Decca made their entrance. In greeting her, Jaffe described her as a Maccabi of music, keeping alive everything that the Nazis had tried to destroy. Her gift he said, was greater than words, because there is no greater gift than music. He was immensely honored to have shared the stage with her. Haendel paid him the courtesy of reciprocity and told him that he had done great justice to the composer and that what she had accomplished earlier in the evening would not have been possible without him. "You had a share in it," she said.
ALTHOUGH THE signs in the gallery exhorted visitors not to touch, the Tel Aviv socialites who crowded into the small premises of the Basel Gallery in Tel Aviv and occasionally moved out into the street to make room for yet another of their crowd who had just arrived, could not keep their hands off the intriguing jewelry pieces - mostly eye-catching pendants and cascading necklaces created by Nurit Jaglom. While most clothing and accessory stores have been advertising sales with discounts of up to 70 percent, Jaglom was in new season rather than end of season mode with exciting new creations that were too tempting to be merely looked at.
They were picked up, admired, tried on, and in many cases purchased. Much of the new collection was categorized by Jaglom as vintage retro - and indeed, there was a flavor of yesteryear's glitz and glamor in addition to some of the very contemporary items that were examples of Jaglom's ever fertile imagination. Some of the strands of pearls were fastened not by a clasp but by a satin bow that was tied at the side. Many of Jaglom's friends who attended the exhibition could not resist this ultra-feminine look, but it's not certain that all of them could tie the bow with the same finesse.
SOON AFTER the Yom Kippur War, a young woman from Chile came to Israel to work as a volunteer on kibbutz. While in Israel she went to see the movie "Casablan," starring Yehoram Gaon, and was so enchanted by the music that she purchased a tape to take back home with her.
It took 32 years for Irene Cecillia Bronfman Faivich to return to Israel. In the interim she managed to get married and divorced twice, produce three children, to be engaged in the political struggle to bring democracy to Chile and most recently to be appointed as her country's ambassador to Israel. Throughout those three decades, she listened to "Casablan" many times, but never imagined that she would have a working relationship with Gaon. Then, just before she came to Israel in the role of ambassador, she learned that Gaon was a candidate for honorary consul for Chile in Jerusalem. She was absolutely thrilled.
There's still a little bureaucratic red tape to cut before the appointment becomes official, but it's already understood that Gaon, who during his term on the Jerusalem City Council introduced numerous cultural projects, will extend these activities to include bilateral cultural exchanges.
CELEBRATING HALF a century of married life are former Chicagoans Rabbi Jay and Ruby Ray Karzen. He is famous for conducting bar and bat Mitzva ceremonies at the Western Wall of children who have specially come from abroad - mostly the US - for this milestone occasion. She is an interior decorator and a former national president of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI). Among the Karzens' various 50th wedding anniversary festivities was a Kiddush that they hosted last Shabbat at the capital's Hanassi synagogue.
APROPOS AACI, the guest speaker at the organization's Biennial convention in Jerusalem on January 9 will be Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, who though not exactly a North American, lived in the US for long enough to be counted as one. Soon after the announcement of Fischer's appointment as governor, he called on President Moshe Katsav, and was asked at that time by The Jerusalem Post to make a statement in English.
Because there was some controversy at the time about his fluency in Hebrew given the need for someone in that position to know Hebrew well, Fischer declined to speak in English and persisted in speaking a somewhat halting Hebrew. His refusal to speak English was broadcast on radio and television and headlined in the Hebrew media. However, taking into account that AACI conventions are conducted in English, it's a fairly safe bet that at least on this occasion Fischer will not insist on speaking Hebrew.
VETERAN JOURNALIST Diana Lerner, whose by-line has appeared in numerous publications around the globe, including The Jerusalem Post, has unwittingly embarked on a new career. Ever since the publication several months back of her delectable memoir, "I Must Have Come Out of an Eggplant," she has been in high demand as a public speaker, and because so much of what she has to say causes so much mirth, she can now also describe herself as a stand-up comedienne. "I only tell it the way it was," says Lerner, "but it makes people laugh, and I'm having a lot of fun."
BACK IN Israel after a long absence in which she has been covering crisis situations in Africa, South America and the USA primarily for the Christian Science Monitor is Dana Harman, the former prize-winning diplomatic correspondent of The Jerusalem Post who covered the Ehud Barak administration. Those friends with whom Harman has not yet caught up may no longer recognize her. It's not that she's aged - far from it. But the once blonde tresses are now a deep brunette. Although the family home is in Jerusalem, Harman has decided to live in Tel Aviv - and yes, she's still working for the Monitor.