ALMOST EVERYONE loves a good party, and many of his old friends and acquaintances, especially those who had long ago joined him in his quest for peace and coexistence, turned up on Sunday at the Tel Aviv Haketana sheltered living facility to join veteran peace activist and champion of the downtrodden Abie Nathan in celebrating his 80th birthday.
Once a charismatic and impressive figure, oozing energy, enthusiasm and commitment, Nathan is now a shadow of his former self.
A stroke that he suffered nine years ago deprived him of his mobility and severely affected his speech, although he did manage to briefly join in the community singing of some of his favorite songs.
Nathan is best remembered for his Voice of Peace radio station broadcasting 24 hours around the clock from his peace ship sailing "somewhere in the Mediterranean."
But long before launching the peace ship, he attempted a peace flight to Egypt. In fact he flew to Egypt twice and the Egyptians understood his intentions better than the Israelis. When it was still forbidden, he met with then PLO leader Yasser Arafat to talk peace. He still believes that peace is possible - despite all the obstacles.
Not everyone invited to his party could attend. Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau sent a letter of congratulations in which he called Nathan "a trailblazer for peace." Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who was abroad, sent a letter telling Nathan that on Friday, May 18 there will be a special unveiling ceremony on Gordon Beach to mark the spot where Nathan sank his peace ship when he could no longer raise sufficient funds to keep it afloat.
Oren Barel, who heads the Phonokol production company which has put out a CD featuring the best of the songs broadcast on the Voice of Peace along with Nathan's mellow voice making announcements, presented Abie with a citation and the first copy of the CD.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres arrived after most of the guests were assembled, and Nathan's eyes lit up with joy as Peres kissed him and took a seat alongside him. Meretz leader Yossi Beilin also sat nearby and former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat, who apologized for being late because he'd been on a tour of the Gaza Strip, recalled the days when Nathan had been a member of the Tel Aviv City Council.
Maestro Zubin Mehta, Nathan's long time friend, who like Abie was born on April 29, albeit a few years later, sent a huge bouquet of flowers, and apologized that he and his wife Nancy could not be in Israel at this time.
Other well-known faces in the crowded dining room of Tel Aviv Haketana included those of Yaffa Yarkoni, Dan Almagor, Ruth Dayan, Shaul Biber, Abie Nathan's daughter Sharona, Amnon Zichroni, Yaakov Agmon, Didi Menusi, Zvika Gurevich and Miri Aloni, who serenaded him with "Shir Hashalom" (Song of Peace).
Peres said that Nathan, in his quest for peace, had crossed all boundaries and norms. But he had also made his presence felt in places where others did not always go.
"Wherever there was poverty and tragedy in the world - there was Abie," Peres said. "I don't know of anyone who has given as much as he has. He has shown us what one person can do."
Then, turning to Nathan, Peres said: "I know that it's not easy for you, but I'm sure that the dream that you dreamt will be realized regardless of the skeptics."
Beilin didn't miss the opportunity to introduce a political note into his remarks and commented on how easy it was for people to glorify war, and how easy it was for them to say that there is no one to talk to on the other side and that peace is unattainable.
He pondered on what one could do in the face of this "collective stupidity" by the majority, and comforted himself with the belief that in the final analysis the minority would win. The minority, he said, could be a few people or even just one person, such as Abie Nathan.
n ACTUALLY, PEOPLE from both sides do talk to each other as will be evidenced today when chief PLO negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat and Israel's Housing Minister Meir Shitreet meet at Jerusalem's Ambassador Hotel under the auspices of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. The 3 p.m. meeting is open to the public.
n IN PREVIOUS years, British Ambassadors usually celebrated Queen Elizabeth's birthday some time in June, close to the date of her official birthday. But June is both a very hot, humid and busy period in Israel, so British Ambassador Tom Phillips and his wife Anne chose a generally more comfortable time and celebrated Her Majesty's 81st birthday, closer to the actual date of her birth on April 21.
The event was even more festive than in the past with guests walking along a red carpet that stretched from the entrance hall to the stairs at the end of the patio leading to the garden.
The patio itself was strikingly decorated in the British national colors of red, white and blue, and outside the residence a laser beam had the Union Jack sweeping across the pavement and soaring to the sky.
Electric light poles in streets leading to the residence were adorned with British and Israeli flags. Inside the house was a photo exhibition, featuring important British personalities who have visited Israel, including Prime Minister Tony Blair in poses with Ehud Olmert and Shimon Peres, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett with Tzipi Livni, Lord Allenby with Beersheba Mayor Yaakov Terner, and one of Phillips with Israel Prize laureate, industrialist Dov Lautman.
As always there was a kilted Scottish piper, who came in for special attention during the sunset ceremony in which the flag mounted on the rooftop of the residence was lowered. This year the bagpipes were played by Sergeant James Scott of the Royal Corps of Signals, Pipes and Drums. Many of the guests were delighted by the presence of Sir Andrew and Lady Sarah Burns.
Sir Andrew served as British ambassador to Israel from 1992 to 1995. Phillips was already serving as consul general and deputy head of mission when Burns took up his post, so the two of them had a reunion in addition to the many reunions that Sir Andrew and Lady Sarah enjoyed throughout the evening.
Lady Sarah is deeply involved with the British Friends of Neveh Shalom and it was a Neveh Shalom gathering that prompted the visit to Israel at this time. Among the other guests were at least two, who live in Israel, had been abroad, flown in earlier in the day, and immediately carried on with their social schedules.
Esther Lucas, who is very much involved with educational and international affairs, had been in Scotland for a conference, then traveled on to London to celebrate her 89th birthday with members of her family, and had taken a morning flight from London to Tel Aviv.
Swedish Ambassador Robert Rydberg, who will be winding up his term this summer, returned earlier in the day from a regional conference of Swedish ambassadors in Abu Dhabi, after having managed to organize the conference in Israel last year.
Waitresses mingling among the hundreds of guests carried trays of delicious Scotch salmon that been specially flown in for the occasion, filled mini pitas and an amazing choice of ice-creams. Later, they came out with fish and chips served in newspapers - something that is no longer permissible in England.
In response to someone's remark that one shouldn't break with tradition, Roy, the British-born nephew of Indian restaurateur Reena Pushkarna, remarked that what's traditional today in Britain is curry and chicken vindaloo.
The formal part of the evening was moderated by British Defense Attache Col. Mark Rollo-Walker, who in introducing Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog commented that Herzog's late father had also been a colonel in the British Army.
Phillips said that it was a real honor to have been given the job of pursuing British interests in this part of the world, and to be tasked to ensure that relations between Britain and Israel are in good working order.
He also noted that the year ahead would be one in which there will be particular focus on historical inter-linkage between the UK and Israel, given that November will mark the 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and that next year will mark Israel's 60th anniversary of statehood.
"My country remains fully conscious of what Israel has achieved in a remarkably short period of time," he said. "We also remain fully committed to Israel's security."
Phillips also added that Britain is determined to do what it can towards the achievement of a sound peace agreement between Israel and its neighbors and a negotiated two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.
Herzog spoke of the common destiny and heritage of
Britain and Israel, and commended Britain for being in the forefront of the battle for the democracy and wellbeing of states and nations, and for the cooperation and friendship that it had demonstrated in its relations with Israel.
Addressing Phillips personally, Herzog said: "You have contributed a lot to the enhancement of that relationship."
The formal ceremony concluded with a humorous laser presentation showing the queen to be a very upbeat monarch ruling over a very progressive country.
ISRAEL IS a first-time posting for Moldovan Ambassador Larisa Miculet, who was understandably nervous when she initially took up her role without any previous diplomatic experience. Her background is in law and not in diplomacy.
However, she has obviously acquitted herself well because Moldovan President Vladimir Vronin has signed a presidential decree that designates Miculet and Samuil Roitman, Moldova's honorary consul in Israel as recipients of the Meritul Civic (Civil Merit) insignia, one of the most prestigious of its kind in Moldova, in recognition of what they have done to promote bilateral relations between Moldova and Israel.
WHEN SINGAPORE'S non-resident ambassador to Israel, Chew Tai Soo, came from Paris in response to Acting President Dalia Itzik's invitation to the Independence Day reception that she hosted for diplomats, it was not merely to demonstrate Singapore's good relations with Israel. He was also preparing the last-minute details for the visit by Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo, who arrived in Israel a few days later.
ONE OF the biggest headaches for organizers of charity bazaars is getting sufficient goods to sell, but possibly more important, is getting an appreciable number of valuable prizes to provide the incentive for people to buy large numbers of raffle tickets.
Thus when the Diplomatic Spouses Club headed by Inara Eihenbaums, the wife of the Latvian Ambassador was planning its bazaar in aid of the Christian Orthodox Scouts of Jaffa, she used her influence, combined with the knowledge that Latvia wants to boost tourism from Israel, to secure as a first prize in the raffle, a round-trip ticket from Tel Aviv to Riga - the metropolis of the Baltics.
The ticket, provided by Latvian National Carrier AirBaltic, was won by French Military Attache, Col. Christian Baptiste, who is winding up his tour of duty this summer. He attributed his good luck to his wife, Fabienne, who bought the winning ticket.
The event, held at the home of Austrian Ambassador Kurt Hengl and his wife Jacqueline, attracted some 500 people, largely from the international community, including many ambassadors, diplomatic staff, and military attaches.
There were also honorary consuls (who are generally Israeli), representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister's Office, as well as teachers and staff of the American International School and local residents of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Kfar Shmaryahu, and Ra'anana who socialize and/or do business with the international community.
Inara Eihenbaums refused to take sole credit for the enormous success of the event, declaring that without the efforts of her team who included Hamiyet Outzen, Carol Sommer, Rhoganee Pather, Sabine Finken, Maria Eugenia Goni, Rossana Massai and Carmela St John, all the bits and pieces required for success would not have come together.
The Scouts were chosen as the beneficiaries of the proceeds of the bazaar because the Scout Movement, founded by Robert Baden-Powell, is this year celebrating its centenary. In addition, the Christian Orthodox Scouts of Jaffa teach tolerance, demonstrate coexistence between Arabs and Jews and provide numerous community services in addition to regular Scout activities. They have received numerous awards from local and international institutions in recognition of their aims and achievements.
ACCORDING TO the pundits, timing is everything. However, when Felice Friedson, president and CEO of The Media Line News Agency, which initiated the Mideast Press Club, was planning a showing of the Oscar winning "West Bank Story," with the participation of director and co-script-writer Ari Sandel, who lives in Los Angeles, she could not have known that the event would be competing with the presentation of the Winograd Committee's interim report.
But when introducing Sandel and the film to an audience of Palestinian and Israeli journalists, student journalists and student film makers, Friedson assured them that the film would be a lot more exciting than the report.
Many of those in the audience were fascinated by the gold Oscar which Sandel brought with him. They talked about it, they touched it and they posed for photos with it. But more interesting was the post-screening discussion on whether the explosive political situation engulfing Israelis and Palestinians could be treated in comedic form. To those who may not have seen or read about the film, it is a hilarious parody of "West Side Story," replete with the finger-snapping choreography. Unaware of what inspired the movie, the Palestinians objected to the title, reading into it political innuendo that the director had not intended.
They could live with the idea of a love story between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim, but they would have preferred an Israeli girl to fall in love with a Palestinian boy rather than a Palestinian girl with an Israeli soldier.
They were very disapproving of the love scene, which to people not of their culture represented little more than an innocent kiss. But for them, the kiss no matter how innocent was taboo.
Although Sandel had attempted to be as objective as possible in presenting the funnier facets of life between un-neighborly neighbors, the Palestinians didn't quite see it that way, and thought that even in a film that purported to treat both sides equally, while simultaneously poking fun at them, they'd been given the short end of the stick. The bottom line was a reply to a question posed by Friedson: "Could this film be shown in Ramallah?"
The answer was overwhelmingly in the affirmative with the Palestinians inviting all the Israelis to come to Ramallah for the screening. Sandal who has already shown the film in Dubai and at well over 100 festivals in America and beyond, was thrilled to have the opportunity to add Ramallah to the list.
IT'S VERY difficult for a collector to part with items that he has been lovingly amassing and jealously guarding for decades. Indeed, Manfred Anson of Bergenfeld, New Jersey had more than 1,000 items of Herzl memorabilia which he had collected in a period of over 30 years. However, there comes a time in every collector's life in which he asks himself who will preserve his collection after he is gone. Sometimes a collector's enthusiasm is passed on to the next generation - but not always.
Anson preferred not to take any chances and to donate his precious collection to the Central Zionist Archives of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization in Jerusalem.
Anson's collection is believed to be the largest collection of Herzl memorabilia in the world. His first contact with anything related to Theodor Herzl was at age 15 in his native Germany while a student at a Jewish agricultural college that trained prospective emigrants for life in Palestine.
He read Der Judenstaat, Herzl's blueprint for the Jewish State, but it didn't make much of an impression on him. He did not go to Palestine, but instead escaped to Australia where he arrived in 1940, and eventually opened a successful florist's business.
He remained in Australia till 1963, and then went to New Jersey to join his sister who had survived the war and settled there. It was in America that his interest in Herzl was kindled.
The genesis of his collection began with medals. Anson noticed in his forays to antique shops that Herzl's likeness appeared on more medals than did that of any other Jew. This fact sparked Anson's curiosity in Herzl the man, and thus the collection broadened to anything and everything to do with Herzl.
One of Anson's prized possessions was a copy of Der Judenstaat bearing Herzl's signature. At the presentation ceremony that took place in Jerusalem on Herzl Day on Sunday, celebrating the 147th anniversary of Herzl's birth, Anson was pleasantly surprised when Liora Herzl, Israel's former ambassador to Norway, presented him with a piece of Herzl memorabilia that he had ever seen before - a menu from the popular Shwarma Congress Basle Restaurant on Ibn Gvirol St. in Tel Aviv.
Liora Herzl, whose great-grandfather was a cousin of Herzl, is not the only member of the family to serve in the diplomatic corps.
Tova Herzl, who served as Israel's first woman ambassador to South Africa, where she happened to spend a large part of her youth and where she attended Herzlia High School in Cape Town, is another.
An even more celebrated distant relative of the Zionist visionary is well-known lawyer and former government minister, Yaakov Neeman.
THE OLD adage about two Jews and three opinions rings very true in the case of Elias Inberm, 31, a contestant in the popular TV reality show, The Ambassador. Neither his fellow contestants nor the adjudicators thought him to be deserving of the title, but the Foreign Ministry thought differently, and took him on as a cadet.
The joke is that of all the contestants in the show that ran two seasons, Inberm is the only contestant to wind up as a true blue diplomat. He has just been appointed as spokesman for the Israel Embassy in South Africa, the largest Israeli embassy on the African continent. Although he is not the first immigrant from Ethiopia to serve Israel's diplomatic interests abroad, the appointment is a particular triumph for Inberm, who came to Israel as a child, grew up in Beersheba, earned degrees in business administration and education, and is currently completing a law degree.
SEEN VOTING in the first round of the French elections was former Knesset Speaker and Jewish Agency chairman Avraham Burg, who will presumably yet again exercise his right to vote next week. Though born in Israel, Burg was able to take out French citizenship by virtue of the fact that his wife comes from France.
He is not the only high-profile Israeli to hold dual or multiple citizenship - but the fact that he voted has incensed Aryeh Avneri, chairman of the Ometz watchdog organization that is dedicated to fighting corruption.
Avnery contacted Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski to ask that all of Burg's rights and privileges from both those institutions be revoked. There is, however, nothing illegal about Burg holding dual citizenship or voting in the French elections if French law permits it.
VETERAN ACTRESS and Israel Prize laureate Hannah Meron will receive an honorary doctorate from Ben Gurion University of the Negev within the framework of the annual meeting of the BGU Board of Governors in mid-May. German-born Meron, whose parents brought her to Tel Aviv when she was still a child, has been an actress for almost the whole of her life-time. During World War II, she performed with army entertainment troupes attached to the British Forces. After losing a leg in a terrorist attack on an Israeli plane in Munich in 1970, she continued with her career, and learned to walk with barely a sign of a limp. Far from fostering a hatred of Arabs, her traumatic experience propelled her towards organizations working towards Jewish-Arab coexistence. She was a signatory to the Geneva Initiative, and is active in Gush Shalom and the Peres Center for Peace.