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PRESIDENTS, PRIME MINISTERS, at least one former prime minister and at least one mayor of the city have been among the congregants attending Rosh Hashana services at Jerusalem's Great Synagogue in years gone by. But this year, the front-row seats that are reserved for such luminaries were empty.
One internationally renowned celebrity, who makes a point of attending High Holy Day Services at the Great every year, was there as usual. Filmmaker Arthur Cohn, the recipient of five Academy Awards plus a host of other prizes, was there not only as a worshiper but also in the capacity of one of the priests who bless the congregation.
Another member of the Cohn family may be on the road to fame. His charming daughter Nurit, who studied singing in Manhattan, is now living in Jerusalem and writing her own songs. It shouldn't take too long before she has a CD in the works. One of the people encouraging her is fellow singer Michelle Katz, the wife of soul singer Yehudah Katz who is the lead singer and instrumentalist with the Reva L'Sheva religious rock band.
SAGGING RATINGS in the polls, criticism from many quarters and calls for his resignation have not given Prime Minister Ehud Olmert much reason to smile. However, he should be able to crack a smile tomorrow, Saturday, when he celebrates his 61st birthday (though some of his neighbors are hoping that if there's a party to mark the occasion, the venue will be somewhere other than the Prime Minister's Residence).
SOMEHOW ONE doesn't quite expect the ambassador of Russia to be au fait with Scottish poet Robert Burns. But if one asks Ambassador Gennady Tarasov why he's still in Israel when he was due to complete his term in the summer, he replies enigmatically: "To quote Robert Burns: 'The best laid schemes o' mice an' men... '"
Tarasov and his wife Elena were all set to return to their apartment in Moscow, and even had it totally gutted and rebuilt, but apparently the Russian Foreign Ministry thinks that he's doing a good job in Israel, and has extended his period of service.
Elena Tarasova spent several months in Russia overseeing the reconstruction and decor of their apartment, and was looking forward to moving back in, even though the premises are much smaller than the ambassador's residence in Herzliya Pituah. Now that she's back in Israel, she has resumed her role as Russia's unofficial cultural ambassador - one which any future cultural attache will have difficulty emulating, unless he or she has the vibrant personality that has opened so many doors and made so many friends for Tarasova.
NEW POSTINGS assigned to career diplomats are often so far from their previous posting that friendships are difficult to maintain and are finally reduced to e-mail greetings on religious and national holidays. However, distance will not be a problem for France's new ambassador to Israel Jean-Michel Casa, who on September 20 wound up his four-year tour of duty in Jordan. If he so desires, Casa will be able to spend weekends in Jordan, and will be able to drive there from his office in Tel Aviv in less time than it would take to drive to Eilat. Conversely, he can entertain Jordanian friends in Israel. Casa is due to present his credentials to President Moshe Katsav on October 18. Other new envoys scheduled to present credentials on the same date include Australian Ambassador James Larsen, Canadian Ambassador Jon Allen, Japanese Ambassador Yoshinori Katori and the non-resident Ambassador of New Zealand.
BRITISH NEWSPAPERS are giving broad coverage to a possible business deal between what at first glance seems to be an unlikely partnership. Iranian-born, London-based businessman Kia Joorabchian has, according to reports, persuaded Israeli medical, commercial and residential property developer and hotel magnate Eli Papouchado to join a consortium that is poised to buy the West Ham United football team.
According to some reports, Papouchado, whose business interests span three continents, has confirmed that Joorabchian has spoken to him. and that he has given serious consideration to investing in the football team. If he does go ahead with the deal, he assured reporters, it will be purely as an investor; he will not be involved in managing the team.
Meanwhile, Papouchado's name is being bandied about in gossip columns on the home front, not in relation to football or investments, but with regard to the grand finale of his two-year relationship with international fashion model Orly Bauman. What started out as a beautiful romance ended in mutual recriminations which may possibly be settled in court. Papouchado, a former head of the Israel Hotels Association, has always been a controversial figure. In November 1982, despite the fact that Taba was a hot topic of dispute between Israel and Egypt, he opened his luxury Avia Sonesta Hotel less than 200 meters from what was then the Egyptian border. The hotel was named in memory of his deceased wife Avia. Israel subsequently returned Taba to the Egyptians and the Avia Sonesta became the Hilton, Taba.
EACH YEAR Yossi Alfi, initiator and director of the annual Story Tellers' Festival at the Givatayim Theater, has to come up with new topics and new participants in the hope of attracting ever larger audiences. Ethnic themes are perennial, as are evenings geared to Ladino- and Yiddish-speaking patrons. But Alfi also seeks out topical subjects such as the United Nations, and has a session on stories from the UN scheduled for October 10. The moderator will be Israel Radio's Arye Golan, who will elicit stories from former Israel ambassadors to the UN Gad Yaacobi, Meir Rosenne and Yehuda Lancry. Added value will be provided by Zalman Shoval, who was twice Israel's ambassador to the US, and Alon Pinkas, who was Israel Consul General in New York, and while in that position became embroiled in a widely publicized controversy with then foreign minister Silvan Shalom.
EVEN THOUGH the military coup d'etat in Thailand was bloodless, the media, especially the Israeli media, continues to cloak it in a sense of both drama and danger. Thus the fact that entertainer Hani Nahmias was there during the coup excited headlines, even though Nahmias reported that everything was quiet and peaceful. Even after calm continued to prevail, it was thought newsworthy to report that Eyal Kitzis, the straight-faced host of the side-splitting satirical program Eretz Nehederet ("A Wonderful Country"), had gone to Thailand in the aftermath of the coup.