THE NEW year is a time for new beginnings but also for farewells. Genial Mexican Ambassador Carlos Rico, after being feted by friends and colleagues, threw a farewell party of his own last Friday at his Herzliya Pituah hacienda. Also due to leave at the end of this month, almost exactly four years after their arrival in Israel, are Russian Ambassador Gennady Tarasov and his vivacious and dynamic wife Elena, who have made so many close friends in Israel that they won't have to stay in a hotel should they care to return for a visit from their home in Moscow. Also leaving at the end of this month after 13 in Israel as deputy secretary-general of the Baha'i International Community is Murray Smith, whose experience as a politician in his native New Zealand stood him in good stead here.
WHILE SOME members of the international community in Israel will be saying sad goodbyes, others have cause to celebrate. German Ambassador Dr. Harald Kindermann together with Dr. Norbert Lammert, the president of the German Federal Parliament, is hosting a reception at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art prior to the opening of a festive exhibition by Stefan Moses marking Germany's assumption of the presidency of the European Union this month. The exhibition, sponsored by the Goethe Institute in Tel Aviv, has been given the tongue-in-cheek name, Deutsche Vita.
IRISH AMBASSADOR Michael Forbes also has cause for celebration. Ireland already had its fling at the presidency of the EU three years ago, and will have to wait for quite some time for another turn. However, Murphy's four-day Irish Festival in Tel Aviv repeats itself every year at the same venue - the Tel Aviv Cinematheque - with new movies and live entertainment, but the same popular Irish brew and a reception hosted by the Irish ambassador. This year, the live entertainment will include a form of fusion between Irish River dance performers and a local belly dancer who has adapted her wiggle to the rhythm of Irish music.
ANYONE WHO expected Tarek Mahmoud El-Kouny, the second in command at the Egyptian embassy, to express any personal opinions when he came to Ben Gurion University to talk about Egypt and the Middle East, was bound to be disappointed. El-Kouny made it clear right from the start that whatever he had to say was in line with his country's official policy and the views that he was expressing were not his own.
As a result, there was suddenly a little more breathing space in what had been a packed hall. Among those who stayed was BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi and fellow diplomat Irene Bronfman-Faivovich, the ambassador of Chile, who specially made the trip from Tel Aviv to Beersheba to listen to El-Kouny.
SOME 30 foreign diplomats had indicated their intention to attend the International Christian Embassy's festive gathering in Jerusalem to celebrate both Hanukka and Christmas. But after they had responded favorably to the invitation, they received another for the same date and the same time from Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu for a briefing on the Iranian situation. While it's not unusual for members of the international community to run from function to function, this time it was impossible because the Netanyahu event was in Tel Aviv. However, one ambassador who had promised the ICEJ that he would attend kept his word.
Eritrean Ambassador Tesfamariam Tekeste Debbas was given an even warmer welcome than the usual red-carpet treatment that the ICEJ accords all its guests because his attendance was so greatly appreciated at a sensitive period in which there are no longer any foreign embassies operating in the nation's capital.
The genial Debbas disclosed some disturbing information to The Jerusalem Post that although his country had benefited greatly from the world famous Netafim drip irrigation system, it was switching from the Israeli company to a Chinese company because the Chinese were producing exactly the same kind of system at a much lower price.
IN COMING days, relatives, friends, colleagues and admirers of the legendary and volatile Teddy Kollek, who died yesterday, will be trading thousands of anecdotes about his exploits and achievements. One such story involves someone who dared to pick a flower from a public garden. Kollek, who was responsible for putting up parks and gardens all over Jerusalem, happened to be driving past as the flower was being picked. Backtracking to the culprit, Kollek got out of the car and shouted at the hapless flower lover, accusing the person of stealing something that belonged to everyone.
Kollek, who in his declining years was confined to a wheelchair, hated to be seen in the chair, and whenever he was called on to speak in public, he made every effort to stand up on his own and walk a few steps. He also insisted on walking to the polling booth when casting his vote in the national elections. On one such occasion, it was extremely difficult for him to walk from the car to the polling station next to the prime minister's official residence. Although his knees buckled several times, he refused to give in and made his way to the polling booth to do his civic duty by casting his vote.
NOBEL PRIZE laureate Robert Aumann had agreed to address Foreign Ministry retirees, one of whom is his brother, Moshe Aumann, a former diplomat and an internationally acknowledged expert on relations between Christians and Jews. The audience sat waiting expectantly, but the guest speaker did not arrive. The Aumanns are yekkes, which is synonymous with being punctual. Moshe Aumann began to fret. His brother was never late for an appointment. On the contrary, he usually arrived ahead of time. Eventually, after more than half an hour had passed beyond the scheduled starting time for the event, someone went outside to see if the guest lecturer had perhaps lost his way in the corridors of the building. But no. He had indeed arrived on time, but chanced upon an obtuse security guard who was not satisfied with his credentials and would not allow him to pass. The person who had come to search for Aumann was appalled, not to mention embarrassed.
"Do you know who this is?" he spluttered. The guard neither knew nor cared. As far as he was concerned he had certain orders - and there were no exceptions to the rule. Some years ago, there was a similar episode with Sonia Peres, who came to visit her husband, who was then foreign minister. The guard at the gate didn't recognize her and initially denied her entry.
It was only when she mentioned her relationship to the minister that he allowed her into the compound. Incidents of this kind are not limited to the Foreign Ministry and other government offices. When the late Israel Pollak, the founder of Polgat, was still alive, he agreed to be interviewed by a Post reporter who went out to the factory in Kiryat Gat to fulfill the assignment. The guard refused to allow her to pass.
"But I've got an appointment with Israel Pollak," she protested. "I don't know any Israel Pollak," retorted the guard in a surly tone. "Well you should," said the reporter. "He's the man who pays your salary, and if you don't let me inside, you may not get another salary." The guard had enough sense to check with the reception desk if there was an Israel Pollak on the premises, and the reporter got her story.
IT COULDN'T exactly be characterized as a Freudian slip, because it was more or less foisted upon Prof. Menachem Megidor, the president of the Hebrew University and the head of the presidential commission appointed by President Moshe Katsav to examine the structure of government in Israel. Megidor and members of the commission's steering committee met this week with Katsav to present him with their recommendations. During Megidor's preamble prior to the formal presentation of the document, someone made a crack about a woman prime minister in the event of a change of government, and Megidor spontaneously responded: "I hope a woman will be prime minister." It was only after he heard the chortles that he realized that he had unwittingly put his foot in his mouth and that his statement could be misinterpreted as support for the prime ministerial ambitions of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Megidor hastened to clarify what he'd said. "There was nothing political intended," he insisted.
JUST BEFORE the meeting got underway, former minister and former Labor MK Moshe Shahal explained why he had made a recommendation that the Political Parties Law be amended with the requirement that only registered and paid-up members of at least 18 months standing could vote in party primaries. He said it was a way of reducing the corruption that goes hand in glove with primaries. Just around election time, there are suddenly thousands of new members who have been recruited to vote for a particular person. They're not bona fide members of the party, and they disappear immediately after casting their ballots. A change in the system would ensure that every vote was a genuine one, he said. When talk around at the table at Beit Hanassi referred to limiting the number of Knesset committees on which any MK could sit, Katsav and Shahal - who each had long parliamentary careers over more or less the same time span - exchanged the knowing looks of those who'd served on too many committees.
THE HEBREW (originally Slavic) word balagan does not immediately come to mind in association with a book launch or more accurately the launch of a publishing company. But when Shelley Goldman, originally from the UK, and former South Africans Elana Shap and Wendy and Jeffrey Geri were planning the debut of their publishing venture Ang-Lit, a word play on the Hebrew for English plus a Hebrew-English abbreviated hybrid for English literature, it never occurred to them that there would be any disruptions to the event. Beit Hatefutsoth, with its dedication to the history and culture of the Jewish diaspora, was the most logical venue to introduce an Israeli publishing house focusing on English-language short stories based on the Israel experience, because all the writers had either been born in or lived for a long period of time in the Diaspora. However, they hadn't bargained on the fact that tour buses disgorge scores of visitors to Beit Hatefutsoth on Friday mornings. Invited guests trying to weave their way through the tour groups towards the drinks and nibbles found it tough going, and some of the tourists gate-crashed the reception, mistakenly believing that the refreshments were part of the museum's welcome mat. For a while it was sheer bedlam - but eventually it sorted itself out. Some of the people present may have wondered about the huge, beautifully braided halla that occupied pride of place in the refreshment area. It was there as a prop for Ang-Lit's first anthology of short stories, the title of which was taken from the short story by Ruth Almon, "Jane Doe Buys a Halla."
Goldman, a veteran journalist who for some 15 years edited the Post's weekly supplement City Lights, later worked for a while at Ha'aretz and then decided to move away from journalism into the sphere of creative writing. She enrolled at an English-language creative writing course at Bar Ilan University and empathized with the frustrations of most of her classmates who had difficulty in finding a vehicle for their output.
Goldman's solution was to establish a publishing house. She had worked with Shap, and the Geris were good friends who had more than a passing interest in such a project. Jeffrey Geri is a published author and Wendy Geri, who for many years was the public relations director for the Sheraton hotels, had steered Goldman toward her first job in Israel. Speaking briefly at the launch, Goldman noted that lots of fact-based material is written about Israel, but that Ang-Lit Press is all about fiction.
"If you say to people 'I want to talk to you,' they run away," she said, "but if you say 'I want to tell you a story,' you always have an audience."
Ang-Lit is encouraging short story writers to produce more on the Israel experience, as seen from a large variety of perspectives. Its next project will be an anthology of short stories set in Tel Aviv and due for publication in 2009 in tandem with the city's centenary celebrations. The stories don't have to be about Tel Aviv, said Goldman, but they must be set in Tel Aviv to qualify for publication. Meanwhile, Ang-Lit is taking itself off to London for International Jewish Book Week. Closer to home is the 23rd biennial Jerusalem International Book Fair that opens on February 18. Goldman did not say whether Ang-Lit Press would participate, but given the JIBF's flexibility, Ang-Lit Press could still find a last minute place for itself. Goldman is among the authors whose works appear in the initial anthology. Most anthologies of short stories do not introduce the reader to the writers per se. In this case, there is a thumbnail biography about every writer, plus an accompanying photograph. Several of the writers are well known in English-speaking circles and were busy last Friday autographing books for eager readers.
IN TANDEM with the 70th anniversary celebrations of the King David Hotel, the flagship hotel in the Dan Hotels chain, hotel tycoon Michael Federmann, a long-time supporter of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, made a substantial donation to the university's School of Public Policy and Government. A ceremony naming the school after the Federmann family took place at the Ezequiel Liwerant-Fomento Mexico Hall at the Mount Scopus campus, where a scholarship in honor of the Federmann family was also awarded.
HU president Prof. Menachem Megidor noted the influence of the School of Public Policy and Government in the future of the State of Israel.
"We have come to realize that the University must contribute to the quality of the governmental system," he said.
Among those attending the ceremony was recently retired president of the Supreme Court, Prof. Aharon Barak, who delivered a lecture on "Legal Policy," in which he stated that the law is not a goal in itself, but is designed to realize the goal and the purpose for which it was created. "When a judge wants to interpret a law and to give life to the text in front of him, he must interpret the law according to the intentions of its creator and therefore according to the values of the society which it serves."
Federmann, who made the donation in memory of his father Yekutiel and his uncle Shmuel, said that the decision of the family to make a meaningful contribution to the School of Public Policy and Government "is definitely what my father would have thought the right thing to do." Yekutiel Federmann was greatly involved in the development of the State of Israel and made an important contribution to its economic growth. For many years, he served on the university's board of governors, and was a generous donor to research and scholarships and for the establishment of the Yekutiel Federmann Chair in Hotel Management. He passed his commitment to the university to other members of his family. Michael Federmann is currently deputy chair of the university's board of governors. The goal of the Federmann School of Public Policy and Government is to train future generations of professional leaders in the public sector.
Among those attending the ceremony were Vice Premier Shimon Peres, a frequent visitor to both the King David and the Hebrew University, not to mention the Dan Hotel, Tel Aviv which is across the road from the former Labor Party headquarters; Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog; leading lawyer Yigal Arnon, who is a former chair of the university's board of governors; hi-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi; head of the international advisory committee of the Federmann School of Public Policy and Government, former cabinet minister Dan Meridor and former Mossad chief and diplomat Efraim Halevy, who is now the head of the university's Centerr for Strategic and Policy Studies.
IN JEWISH tradition, joy and sadness are often intertwined. This is seen at a wedding where a glass is broken in remembrance of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; and insofar as the history of the State is concerned Israel Independence Day immediately follows Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers. Thus it was not an unusual thing for Holocaust survivors David and Sara Marysia Feuerstein of Santiago, Chile, who came to Jerusalem for the wedding at the Great Synagogue of their granddaughter, Caroline Deborah Gaon to David Bitton, to subsequently go to Yad Vashem, where they dedicated the VIP pavilion adjacent to the Warsaw Ghetto Square. In point of fact, they had already put up the mezuza last May, but with all the members of their family in Israel at the same time, they thought it appropriate to have a more formal dedication ceremony than earlier in the year. David Feuerstein, who is president of the Chilean Society for Yad Vashem and sits on the Board of Governors of the American Society for Yad Vashem, had made previous donations to Yad Vashem and also funded the Great Synagogue's Holocaust Wall, dedicated to the six million Jews who perished, including relatives who were murdered in Auschwitz. For him, the positioning of the VIP pavilion at Yad Vashem is particularly meaningful because when he was a prisoner in Block 8 at Auschwitz, he was assigned to a work team after the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto to go and dig through the ruins to find anything of value that the Germans might want.
Somehow he managed to escape and join the Polish resistance fighters. Feuerstein believes that he was spared so that he could tell the story. No crime has been so intensively documented as that perpetrated by the Nazis, said Rabbi Michael Melchior, the chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, adding that "their heirs want to commit new crimes." Melchior said that those who want to commit crimes against humanity have to deny the Holocaust, because anyone who has visited Yad Vashem and has seen what happened could not commit another such crime against humanity. "Just as we vaccinate children against illness," said Melchior, "we need a vaccine against the sickness of hatred, bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism."
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a long time friend of the Feuerstein family and himself a Holocaust survivor, had earlier in the week officiated at the Gaon-Bitton wedding ceremony. Lau, whose speeches are always peppered with anecdotes, told the story of the Satmar Rav who, after regular prayer services, used to bless people who came to him to ask for his intercession with the Almighty. On one such occasion a man whose phylacteries were still wrapped around his bare arm stretched out his hand to ask for the Rav's blessing. The Rav looked down and saw the number on the man's arm. "You're asking me for a blessing," he said. "It is I who should be asking you. As a survivor of Auschwitz, you continued to lay phylacteries, so now we ask you to pray for us, because your prayer will reach greater heights than any prayer of mine."
THE MONEY received by prime minister Menachem Begin as part of his Nobel Peace Prize award was used to create the Aliza and Menachem Begin Fund for granting scholarships, loans and assistance to needy students, and aid to needy children. The Begin Foundation awards were recently distributed for the seventh consecutive year by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Among the recipients were the citizens of Sderot, in recognition of their having stood firm in the face of enemy missile attacks launched from the Gaza Strip. The NIS40,000 check was picked up by Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal, who was accompanied on the trip to Jerusalem by his significant other, Monique Ben Melech.
AMONG THE spectators at the Seville Olympic Stadium watching last week's Match for Peace, featuring an Israeli-Palestinian team brought there by the Peres Peace Center, were two former coaches of the Israel National Football Team Avraham Grant and Shlomo Scharf. The two have been feuding for six years, and it was widely reported in the Israeli media that there would be a sulha - a rapprochement - between them in Spain. As it turned out, the reports were premature and more a matter of wishful thinking than anything else. So as not to embarrass Shimon Peres, the two shook hands at a pre-game luncheon in Spain, but did not exchange a word. After the game, they both attended the same cocktail party, but kept their distance.