FOREIGN MINISTRY Chief of Protocol Yitzhak Eldan left Israel this week for a week-long working holiday that will take him to India, China and Japan. The chiefs of protocol of the foreign ministries of all three countries have invited him to discuss issues of protocol and other subjects of interest to diplomats. Eldan will return to Israel in time for the new round of presentations of credentials to President Moshe Katsav by recently accredited ambassadors. The presentation ceremonies are scheduled for this coming Monday, September 26. Among those making presentations will be newly arrived US Ambassador Richard Jones, who hails from Nebraska. Jones, who previously served as ambassador in Kazakhstan, Kuwait and Lebanon, speaks fluent Arabic and hopes to master Hebrew. Although it is not customary for an ambassador or members of his immediate family to arrive in the country to which they have been assigned while their predecessors are still in residence, a special exception was made for Jones' wife, Joan, who had to enroll two children in school. Joan Jones was promptly adopted by Maira Abdrakhmanova, the friendly and vivacious wife of the ambassador of Kazakhstan, who has made a point of showing her around and introducing her to the people who will frequent her social circle. Joan Jones and her 13-year-old daughter intend to be present at Beit Hanassi on Monday. Her son will miss out on seeing his Dad meet with Katsav; he'll be on a school outing. The Jones family has not yet moved into the official residence, which is being repainted and refurbished.
MANY ISRAELIS were friendly with Norman Raphaelson, who initially came to Israel to serve as general manager of the Hyatt hotel (now the Regency) on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. He later served as manager of the Dead Sea Hyatt, and his final fling with hotel management in Israel was general manager of the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem. When he left just over a year ago, he said it was because he had developed a passion for bread-making, and he wanted to try his hand as a baker and seller of fine breads. According to one of his colleagues in Israel: "The dough didn't rise in more ways than one."
Raphaelson has returned to the hotel business and visitors to Hong Kong can look him up at the prestigious Regent Hotel, where he is now general manager. Stephen Ayers, his successor at the David Citadel Hotel, last month tendered his resignation to hotel owner and prominent real estate developer Alfred Akirov. Beyond saying that the position did not fulfill his expectations, Ayers who was previously general manager of the Carmel Forest Hotel and Spa, and whose resignation takes effect in November is mum on the subject.
Akirov has had problems with the management of the hotel ever since it opened. His much publicized dispute with the Hilton chain, the initial manager of the hotel, which was originally called the Jerusalem Hilton, produced a great deal of mutual acrimony. Since then, he's had a series of general managers, none of whom managed to stay put for more than two years. Although rotation is par for the course in the hotel business, there seems to have been more rotation than is the norm at the David Citadel. Akirov was also embroiled in a long and bitter battle with Karta with regard to a second hotel and luxury shopping complex that he started building adjacent to the David Citadel. Akirov wanted to include a bank of cinemas in the shopping complex, but the Karta board denied him approval, on the grounds that the cinemas would operate on Shabbat. There used to be some dozen or so cinemas in down-town Jerusalem. Now there are none. But in an area very close to Akirov's construction site there are several pubs, clubs and restaurants which are open on Shabbat.
TEL AVIV Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau seems to spend more time in Jerusalem than he does in his own city. A frequent pulpit guest at the capital's Great Synagogue, he also accepts the invitations of other Jerusalem congregations. On Thursday of this week he will be one of the speakers at Yeshurun Synagogue along with Shas spiritual mentor, former Sephardi chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, current Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Rabbi Mordechai Eilon. Next Tuesday, Lau is scheduled to speak at the capital's Ohel Rivka Synagogue, which is around the corner from Beit Hanassi.
Not a month goes by in which he doesn't have several engagements in Jerusalem. In view of the fact that Jerusalem doesn't have a chief rabbi, and that Nir Barkat, the opposition leader of the Jerusalem Municipal Council, has filed a petition to the Supreme Court asking for the post that has been vacant for more than three years be filled within the next four months, perhaps Lau should apply.
With due respect to Tel Aviv, there's more prestige in being chief rabbi of Jerusalem, which is not only the capital, but also has the largest population in the country.
ALTHOUGH GERMAN Ambassador Rudolf Dressler left Israel with minimal fanfare after a five-year tour of duty, his residence was used on Sunday by embassy staff, who invited German citizens residing in Israel to come and watch the German elections on a giant screen. German volunteers working on kibbutzim throughout the country trailed into Herzliya Pituah, as did representatives of the German media; German students studying in Israel; German business people; and, of course, the members of Germany's diplomatic mission in Israel. Those who expected a landslide victory for Angela Merkel were disappointed. The elections were not quite as exciting as some of those present had expected them to be but then again, politics is one of those areas in which expectations and reality seldom collide.
IT'S NO secret that Pini Gershon, the colorful and legendary basketball coach who inspired Maccabi Tel Aviv towards consecutive European basketball championships and was named Euroleague Coach of the Year for the 2004-05 season heads for Jerusalem before every major game to say a prayer at the Western Wall. This week, Gershon showed his appreciation for the many times in which his prayers have been answered. He brought 150 prominent business people all of them die-hard Maccabi Tel Aviv supporters to meet with the Western Wall Rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, and his assistant, Rabbi Yaacov Gloiberman , and to tour the Western Wall tunnels. All the participants admitted to being impressed. Gershon wants to start a nation-wide campaign to connect all Jews to the Western Wall. As part of this campaign, he wants every Bar Mitzva boy to celebrate his entry into manhood there.
WHEN HE was still a star soccer player, Eli Ohana's good looks and healthy head of hair won him a contract to feature in a television commercial for a well-known shampoo. His recent resignation as the coach of Betar Jerusalem has not left him without a job. He's going back to television, but not necessarily to do commercials. Ohana has been courted by cable company YES, to act as a special consultant on a new telenovela based on Israeli soccer and the private lives of the players. Starring Yehuda Levy, who in addition to modeling for Fox, is involved in so many productions that one wonders when he has time to breathe, the show may include some genuine top-notch soccer players to help boost the ratings. The show is scheduled to kick off within the next few months.
THE SOMEWHAT different star in the firmament, Yehuda Sa'ado, who recently realized his big dream to meet with Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, is on an ongoing religious high. Sa'ado will be among the tens of thousands of people who will spend Rosh Hashana in Uman, where they will visit the grave of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav.
THE JUSTICE Ministry, with the aim of changing some of the social stigmas to which members of Israel's Ethiopian community have been subjected, has initiated a project to absorb as many Ethiopian lawyers as possible into the work of the ministry. Many Ethiopians claim that there is both covert and overt racism in Israel. Israel Radio's Mickey Miro, who for many years has made listeners aware of the nation's social ills, last week interviewed a group of highly educated Ethiopians working in a number of white collar professions. One of them, a successful lawyer who as a teenager made the long trek across the Sudan to get to Israel, told Miro that after his arrival, no-one tested him on the level of his English or his knowledge of history, which were both good. Instead, the authorities sent him to a vocational school to learn to be a carpenter. It was automatically assumed that if he came from Ethiopia, he would work with his hands and not with his mind. Those people who still nurture such perverse ideas might be surprised to learn that all the universities in Israel can boast more than a token number of Ethiopian graduates.
INTERVIEWED ON Channel 1's 'Press Conference,' Communications Minister Dalia Itzik was asked by host Menashe Raz why Labor's greatest hope was an aged serial loser. Without missing a beat, Itzik replied: "Menachem Begin was a serial loser until he became a winner."
PRESIDING AT the inaugural 36th anniversary luncheon of the Israel branch of the International Women's Club was dynamic, newly elected president, Hai Rydberg, the Vietnamese wife of the Swedish ambassador. The IWC, composed of an almost equal number of diplomatic wives, spouses of Israel-based members of the global business community and of Israelis, is one of Israel's best hasbara tools. IWC members meet in social and cultural settings in a non-pressured environment several times a week, go on regular tours around the country and form close friendships. Most meetings are conducted in English, but there are also Spanish-, French- and Hebrew-speaking groups within the club. Now Anna De Bernardin, the wife of the Italian ambassador, has started a group for Italian-speakers. Also for the first time, the IWC is involving itself in charity work and will hold its first charity event in early December on behalf of Orr Shalom that cares for children from dysfunctional families. The highlight of the 36th anniversary luncheon was a performance by Sivan Goldman and Nimrod Grinboim, students of the Vocal Arts Institute of the Jaffa Music Center. Goldman, who is a rare talent, exhibited not only a beautiful voice, but a well-developed skill for acting and an attractive face and figure. She is someone worth watching. Grinboim also captivated the audience with his final number, "New York, New York."
Taking an almost motherly interest in the singers was Miriam Ben Haim, one of the more veteran members of the IWC, who is very active in operatic circles and who arranged for Goldman and Grinboim to appear at the luncheon. She had another concert scheduled for them on the same evening.
RIGHT-WING activists Yael Amishav-Medved and David Medved held a fund-raiser at their home in Jerusalem to help the evacuees of Gush Katif to survive until such time as the government makes good on its promises to compensate them for losses incurred when they were forced to leave their homes and their greenhouses. Yael, who was wearing an orange top, orange shoes and an orange ankle bracelet, said that what had been done to the people of Gush Katif was criminal and that she would continue to wear orange until Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was brought to justice. Dror Vanunu, the director of the Gush Katif Fund, said one of the things that will help to keep the spirit of Gush Katif alive is the creation of a museum. He has more than 20,000 photographs of Gush Katif in his possession.
THE NATIONAL Religious Party is trying to ensure that all the Gush Katif evacuees have home hospitality during Rosh Hashana. The NRP has published advertisements in the Hebrew media with the names and cellphone numbers of various NRP functionaries, including MKs Zvulun Orlev, Shaul Yahalom, Gila Finkelstein and Nissan Slominski . For the sake of efficiency, it is easier to call the NRP's national headquarters at 02-623-2103 or 03-691-3631. Anyone who cares to host Gush Katif families during the coming holiday periods should call these numbers.
IT WAS love at first sight when stage and television star Hani Nahmias saw the beautifully groomed Siberian husky that was among the many animals abandoned in the aftermath of the evacuation from Gush Katif. The dog, a female, was one of those rescued by animal rights groups. Nahmias, who saw the dog on television, felt an immediate kinship and contacted Hakol Hai (Everything Alive), and offered to adopt the classy canine whom she named Donna because it means lady in Italian, and the four-footed evacuee had the aristocratic bearing of a lady to the manor born. Yet, only a day after Nahmias took the dog into her heart and her home, Donna was stolen. The dog was adopted on Thursday of last week. On Friday, a photo of Nahmias and the dog appeared in Yediot Aharonot. On Friday evening, Nahmias took the dog for a half-hour walk through Givatayim where she lives. The dog, according to Nahmias, did not make the slightest attempt to run off on its own. When they returned, the dog positioned itself by the gate of Nahmias' home while Nahmias and her family went to her parents' house for kiddush. They were shocked when they got back to discover that Donna had disappeared. The iron gate had been locked and the house is surrounded by a high fence. There was no way that Donna could have escaped. Someone must have broken in and taken her, reasoned Nahmias. The experience was painful because the dog had instantly become part of the family. Nahmias hoped that someone would recognize her or at least read the details on her collar and bring her back. It might just be possible that the dog's former owner saw the photo in Yediot, and wanting to avoid a hassle, simply took possession without confronting Nahmias.
ALTHOUGH HE did not attend synagogue services in New York, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, together with Vice Minister Shimon Peres, attended the Friday night kiddush hosted at Manhattan's Palace hotel by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. They also joined in the singing of Sabbath songs. The event was attended by the entourages of all three ministers, the Israeli delegation to the United Nations, Israeli consular staff stationed in New York and other guests. Also present, despite the bad blood between him and Shalom, was Danny Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the US.
WHO READS the hand-written cardboard placards that some beggars hold in front of them when soliciting alms? Entertainer Dudu Topaz proved that people dropping a coin into a plastic cup walk by with barely a glance for the recipient or his message. Made up to look like a dirty beggar, Topaz, replete with signboard and plastic cup, positioned himself in a busy Tel Aviv street. The message on his piece of cardboard read: "I am unemployed with three children, three women and a BMW. Take pity on me."
Several passers-by did in fact deposit coins. But not to worry. Topaz is not so down on his luck that he is forced to beg. The episode was in preparation for his new show that debuts on Channel 2 in November. Meanwhile, Topaz is off to make some real money in the US and Canada where he will be performing primarily for Israeli expatriates.