US AMBASSADOR Richard Jones wears many hats. A career diplomat, a sportsman, a linguist who in addition to English speaks French, German, Arabic and Russian, an expert in business statistics, science and mathematics in which he holds master's and doctoral degrees, he's also a talented thespian. At a reception that he hosted at his residence for Friends of the Cameri Theater prior to their visit to Washington, where members of the cast of Hamlet will participate in the Shakespeare Festival, Jones surprised his guests with his excellent delivery of the monologue in which Hamlet instructs the actors. For his performance he received a standing ovation. FCT members who will join the special four-day trip that includes the gala performance by the Cameri cast, plus visits to museums and art galleries, will also meet up with old friends and acquaintances from the diplomatic circuit such as Ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor, his predecessor Danny Ayalon, former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and former British ambassador to Israel and presently British Ambassador to the US Sir David Manning, who with his wife Catherine will host a reception for the Israeli visitors. Incidentally, to anyone who may be wondering how the audience at the Shakespeare Festival will react to Hamlet in Hebrew, those who might be unfamiliar with the plot will not have to worry about "to be or not to be." They will have the benefit of simultaneous translation via an electronic system donated by Dame Shirley Porter.
IN THE list of brief biographies of Members of Knesset, the entry for Shimon Peres states that he was born in Poland. If you ask Belarus Ambassador Igor Leshchenya, he will tell you that Peres was born in Belarus. And if you put the question to Lithuanian Ambassador Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene, she will probably claim that Peres is of Lithuanian background. Why should she not? After all, Peres began his address at the Lithuanian independence day festivities last week with the words "Madame Ambassador, fellow Litvaks...." However, Peres appears to place his background to suit the occasion, as a look at the Internet reveals. And it's not just a matter of changing borders. After all, he should know who ruled his birthplace in 1923.
Noting that both Lithuania and Israel are small countries, Peres said that small countries should not be judged by their size but by their depth. Countries larger than Israel and Lithuania had disappeared, he observed, yet a small country like Lithuania, which had been under oppressive foreign rule, had survived and in two years will mark its 1000th anniversary. Small countries need courage and patience to survive, he said, most certainly in the Middle East where rivalries between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims overshadow all else. There was something of a similar nature between Catholics and Protestants before the advent of the age of enlightenment, he said, and in Lithuania, on a smaller scale, there was the conflict between Hassidim and Mitnagdim, which in some cases created frictions within families.
Peres cited his own family. His mother, he said, was related to Rabbi Haim of Volozhin, the great Talmudist and disciple of the Gaon of Vilna, who established the famous Volozhin Yeshiva that was the forerunner of Lithuanian-style yeshivot. His father came from hassidic stock, and so there were often points of disagreement. What Peres failed to elucidate was the mystery of how a family of Hassidim married into a family of Mitnagdim. Volozhin, which was once part of Lithuania, is now in Belarus, which may explain the frequent discrepancies in biographical notes about Peres' origins. Relations between Israel and Lithuania are in great shape he said, but would be enriched with better economic relations.
Skaisgiryte Liauskiene spoke of the restoration 89 years ago of the independent democratic state of Lithuania, in which Jews had played significant roles, had been elected to parliament, took up diplomatic posts and served in the army. Among others she mentioned Shimshon Rosenbaum, the vice minister for Foreign Affairs, and Nachman Rachmilewicz, the deputy minister for industry and trade, who both later moved to Israel where they became honorary consuls for Lithuania. Guests who came hungry to the Lithuanian reception at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv had to wait a long time before they were given access to the buffets. The bar was open, and some nibblies were passed around, but hotel staff, acting on instructions, stood guard over the buffets until the conclusion of the speeches and an Israeli-Lithuanian jam session, which in a sense was Lithuanian all the way in that keyboard player Vyacheslav Ganelin hails from Lithuania and migrated to Israel in 1987. He has returned frequently to his native land to play at jazz concerts with Lithuanian saxophonist Petras Vysniauskas, with whom he played last week in Tel Aviv, and percussionist Arkadijus Gotesmanas. The general rule at national and independence day receptions is that guests partake of refreshments in the time that it takes for the ambassador and members of the embassy staff along with their spouses to individually welcome all the invitees. But the Lithuanian ambassador prefers to present the program first and the food later. She did something similar recently when celebrating the 15th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Lithuania and Israel.