JAPANESE AMBASSADOR Jun Yokota and his wife Akiko were feted at numerous farewell receptions before they hosted their own at the impressive Japanese residence in Herzliya Pituah. The popular couple returned to Japan last week. Before leaving, Yokota expressed the hope that his successor would receive the same warm welcome and degree of hospitality that he had enjoyed. One of the attributes that helped Yokota make friends for himself and his country was his excellent command of English, spoken with absolutely no trace of a Japanese accent. His wife, who was a member of Israel's International Community Choir, endeared herself to many people through her sweet singing voice. Great art lovers, the Yokotas were frequent visitors to the Israel Museum, especially at openings of Japanese-themed exhibitions.
EVEN THOUGH he's had a modicum of practice in representing the government at diplomatic events, Pensioners' Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan still can't get the hang of protocol. At the 15th anniversary celebrations of the Independence of the Republic of Moldova, he almost upstaged Ambassador Larisa Miculet by approaching the microphone ahead of her. However Miculet did not lose her cool, and gently conveyed the message that as hostess, it was her task to open the proceedings.
Both acknowledged the presence of Knesset member Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the Israel-Moldova Parliamentary Friendship Group.
Miculet was appreciative of the large crowd that gathered at the Dan Panorama hotel in Tel Aviv "despite the tense situation in Israel," and noted that Moldova had always supported Israel's efforts to establish a lasting peace in the region. Reviewing the period since 1991, when Moldova declared independence from Soviet rule, Miculet noted Moldova's successful integration into the international community and the advances it has made with regard to democracy, market economy and the rule of law. The frozen Transnistrian conflict remains the major impediment to the strengthening of Moldova's independence and sovereignty, she said, and expressed the hope that with the help of the international community, especially the Ukraine, the European Union and the United States, a peaceful settlement to the conflict would be achieved. More than 70,000 Jews who had once been Moldovan nationals are living in Israel, she stated, while 25,000 Jews continue to live in Moldova.
Eitan confirmed the friendly relations between Israel and Moldova, and commented on their economic and cultural ties. However, as good as the situation may be, Eitan could not ignore the distant past, and punctuated his remarks with a pointed reference to the Kishiniev pogrom of 1903. However he hastened to say that things are different today, and that Moldova's Jews enjoy cultural and religious freedom.
WHENEVER SHE walks into a room these days, Costa Rican Ambassador Noemy Baruch is immediately confronted with the question: "So when are you moving?" Baruch is in no hurry, and replies nonchalantly: "Some time after the festivals." Both she and El Salvador Ambassador Suzana Gun de Hasenson have been instructed by their governments to move out of Jerusalem, and neither is overjoyed at the prospect.
Baruch is a person of principle. After taking up her position in October 2002, she realized that the ambassador's official residence in the capital's Rehov Bustenai was in need of major repairs. In addition, it disturbed her that the building had once belonged to a Palestinian Arab family. So rather than invest in costly renovations to live in a house in which her conscience would not allow her to feel comfortable, she moved to a building adjacent to the Costa Rican Chancery in another part of town that is much closer to government offices, the Knesset and the entry to the city.
TOURISM MINISTER Isaac Herzog joined Helsinki's Jewish community and Finnish dignitaries in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Helsinki synagogue. Guests included President Taria Halonen, Speaker of the Parliament Paavo Lipponen and church leaders as well as numerous Scandinavian Jewish leaders. Land for the synagogue was granted to the Jewish community by the Finnish government just over a century ago. Although the Jewish community of Finland, numbering less than 2,000, is relatively small, as it is in all Scandinavian countries, it has survived and maintains Jewish institutions. During WW II, the Finnish government protected the rights of the nation's Jewish citizens. Of all the ministers, Herzog was the most appropriate representative of the government of Israel on such an occasion, given that his grandfather Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog was the first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel.
CZECH AMBASSADOR Michael Zantovsky took his children home for the summer holidays, and each day they kept asking how many days were left before they could return to Israel. He brought them back in time for the new school year this week.