EVEN THOUGH Michelle Obama did not change her schedule in order to get together with Sarah Netanyahu this week, the US first lady did actually meet with someone with Israel connections - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has philanthropic and business interests here.
Curiosity as to whether the Michelle-Sarah meeting would or would not take place piqued not only the Israeli media, but media outlets abroad. Of course, the more important question was why the Israeli taxpayer, in the face of the current economic crunch, had to fork out for Sarah Netanyahu to accompany her husband to the US if he was going for a working meeting with President Barack Obama, and was scheduled to be away from home for less than a week.
Among the Israeli journalists who aired the question was the Israel Broadcasting Authority's Yaron Dekel who on his radio show It's all talk interviewed Kena Shoval, the wife of Zalman Shoval, who was twice Israel's ambassador to the US and escorted the wives of four prime ministers. Shulamit Shamir, Leah Rabin, Nava Barak and Sarah Netanyahu were all different personalities with different requests and needs, said Kenna Shoval, who presented some of the reasons that wives of government leaders and other senior ministers should accompany their husbands, but did not say whether they should always do so. When Dekel asked her which of the four women mentioned above was the easiest to deal with, Shoval diplomatically declined to say. "That's not the kind of question I'll answer," she said.
n AT THE prestigious Dan David awards ceremony at Tel Aviv University on Sunday night, the ceremony was about to begin but no one could find Dan David. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, an ex-kibbutznik and a former school principal, was waiting on stage while various people went in search of the man of the hour.
So to pass the time, Huldai started a little community singing, which is something they also do in kibbutzim and schools to keep the attention of a fidgety audience. As it happened, Dan David was answering a call of nature, and was eventually discovered in the men's room. What he didn't know was that the ceremony was going to develop into a huge birthday party. It was David's 80th birthday (officially on May 23), and his wife, Gabriella, had organized a mega surprise party. Fellow octogenarian, President Shimon Peres, welcomed him to the club and said that the present belongs to the young but the future belongs to octogenarians.
n AT HIS farewell ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport last Friday, Pope Benedict XVI evoked in some of his listeners memories of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and prime minister Menachem Begin, when he said in relation to his quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians: "No more bloodshed. No more fighting. No more terrorism. No more war."
There was some significance in the fact that the pope uttered these words on the Gregorian calendar anniversary of the declaration of the independent State of Israel, which is also the anniversary of the day of Nakba, which for the Palestinians and many Israeli Arabs signifies a day of mourning for the "catastrophe" of Israel's establishment. Coincidentally, the Friday newspapers featured large advertisements by right-wing groups and individuals urging Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to accept a two-state solution to the conflict.
According to Yitzhak Eldan, the Foreign Ministry's chief of protocol, this papal visit was a far greater exercise in planning and logistics than that of John Paul II nine years ago. Other than the visit of Sadat in 1977, said Eldan, "it was the biggest operation we've ever done."
He was extremely pleased that everything that had been the responsibility of the Israeli organizers and authorities had gone off with barely a hitch. The disruption of the pope's interfaith dialogue was at an event that had not been organized by government representatives, Eldan pointed out.
The pope endeared himself to the planners and organizers of his visit by inviting representatives of each of the bodies involved to the residence of the papal nuncio in Jerusalem, and thanking each of them personally. Just before boarding the El Al Boeing 777 special flight to Rome, he reiterated his "heartfelt thanks to all who have contributed in many ways to my visit," and in this he included the media.
Eldan, inadvertently became an advertising copy writer for El Al when he used the pope's Latin name for a Hebrew sentence which when slightly broken up reads "Bendic tus El Al," which means "Benedict flies El Al."
Before the pope arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport to depart for Rome on Israel's national carrier, Eldan had primed the cabin crew on how to address Benedict and members of his entourage: your holiness to the pope; your eminence to cardinals and your excellency to bishops.
El Al went one better and brought in a Christian air hostess from Nazareth to serve the pope in flight. Among other Israeli delicacies, he was served humous. Alongside the front entrance to the plane was the insignia of the Vatican plus the logo of the Olive Tree Route, a peace project of which Eldan was one of the initiators. Eldan, who boarded the plane to personally take his leave of the pope, presented him with a special edition of the Olive Route map which had been published in honor of the papal visit.
El Al Israel Airways CEO Haim Romano, who is not in the habit of bidding farewell to a passenger in the cabin of a plane, got in on the act and presented the pope with a hand-tooled silver plate depicting all the Christian holy sites in Israel. The plate was specially commissioned from Ya'acov Mardinger, one of the owners of Hazorfim, which specializes in silver objects for ritual purposes. Although the minister for tourism was the host of the visit, the bulk of the organizing and logistics was the task of the Foreign Ministry.
The person who Eldan and other Foreign Ministry personnel found deserving of the most credit for the success of the operation is neither a Jew nor a Christian. He's a Druse by the name of Bahij Mansour, and he's the director-general of the religious affairs department within the Foreign Ministry.
Despite the wide-ranging involvement of the Foreign Ministry in the visit, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was not among the members of the government who stood in the red carpet reception line at the airport to shake hands with the pontiff, President Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Even people in the ministry had difficulty in making a diplomatic excuse for his absence.
n IT SOMETIMES proves to be very advantageous when a prominent personality wears more than one hat. Case in point is Anke Adler-Slottke, a director at Christies in London, who also happens to be the chairwoman of the British Friends of the Tel Aviv Foundation. She is also a close personal friend of Tel Aviv jewelry designer and manufacturer Nurith Jaglom.
As a tribute to Tel Aviv's centenary, Adler-Slottke brought a group of some 50 donors and potential donors on a 100-hour visit to Tel Aviv to look at TAF projects, tour the Tel Aviv Museum, attend a special Israel Philharmonic Orchestra concert conducted by Kurt Masur and visit prominent Tel Avivians in their homes. One of the homes they visited was that of Mayor Huldai and his wife, Yael. Another was that of Nurith Jaglom, which because of its extraordinary furnishings and accessories that successfully unite folklore with classicism, new age concepts and kitsch, is an endless source of fascination. One of her throw cushions bears the message, "Don't get mad, get even." Another conveys the information that "whoever said they can't buy happiness doesn't know where to shop."
The fact that Jaglom's studio and showroom are also in her house made the visit even more worthwhile. Several of the visitors had a great time trying on jewelry and purchased several pieces. But the item they wanted most was not on display. It was a pendant suspended from two levels of a double-stranded necklace that was worn by a petite woman sitting on the couch. Introduced as Nurith's mother, Raya Jaglom, who has a string of executive titles from various organizations and institutions, said that being called Nurith's mother was the title she liked best. She even offered to remove the necklace so that someone else could have it because "Nurith will always make me another one."
But the ever polite British ladies wouldn't hear of it, even though they kept eyeing it. By the way, there's good news for wearers of clip earrings who couldn't find them on the market for the last couple of years. Nurith Jaglom says that clip earrings are coming back into vogue because many women with pierced ears have lobes that are so slit that they no longer support earrings with posts for pierced ears.
n HAD HE intended to participate in the papal mass in Nazareth, British Ambassador Tom Phillips, a practicing Catholic, was prevented from doing so by a previous commitment to the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association, whose meeting with David Newman, professor of political geography and geopolitics at Ben-Gurion University, was being hosted at his residence. IBCA chairman Austen Science, in thanking the ambassador for his hospitality, hinted that it may have been sacrificial when he said with regard to Phillips: "Once committed, never canceled."
Newman and Phillips, who are good friends, spent a little time on mutual platitudes, with Newman making the point that Phillips has been extremely helpful in combating threats of academic boycotts in the UK and in encouraging bilateral science programs.
Newman, who is known for occasionally pressing buttons that get people hot under the collar, promised not to be provocative. In fact, he made a distinction between his personal political views and what he does as an academic - and focused on the latter to explain what the drawing of borders entails and how the determination of borders has changed in the last 100 years. To illustrate this he related the story of an elderly man telling his grandson that he'd gone to school in one country, got his first job in another, got married in another, and so forth. The grandson was amazed and wondered out loud how his grandfather could have got around to that extent at a time when transport was not what it is today. He hadn't moved around, the grandfather said. He'd stayed put, but the borders kept changing. But it doesn't work that way any more.
Soon after the IBCA event, Newman hosted an international conference at BGU marking the 10th anniversary of his founding of the department of politics and government. The conference was devoted to academic freedoms and academic responsibilities, including academic boycotts on which he has been very outspoken. The boycott issue will also be discussed at next week's meeting of the BGU Board of Governors.
n ISRAELIS WITH Polish roots who came to Beth Hatefutsoth last week to hear Janusz Makuch, founder of the Krakow Jewish festival, talk about what motivates him to put on the nine day extravaganza year after year, were spellbound by the poetry in his prose.
Makuch, who was in Israel as the guest of the Israel-Poland Friendship Society, is not Jewish, and describes himself as the "Shabbes goy of Jewish culture and tradition."
He was born in a village that he calls a "shtetl" and until he was 14, had never heard the word Jew. When an elderly man told him that Krakow had once been half Jewish and what had happened to the Jews who disappeared, the young Makuch felt compelled to somehow bring Jewish life back to Krakow.
His Jewish festival grows bigger and better every year, attracting 20,000 visitors from Poland and abroad. Those from Poland are usually not Jewish. Those from around the globe are generally Jewish.
Although he had been twice introduced to the audience, when he approached the microphone he felt the need to introduce himself yet again. "My name is Janusz Makuch and I come from Poland. I come from a country of rabbis and tzaddikim, gaons and melameds, from a country of Jewish sages, writers, bankers, architects, painters, doctors, shoemakers and tailors, film directors and producers, physicians and politicians, scientists and Jewish soldiers, from a country of devout, good people.
"I come from a country of anti-Semites and goodhearted people, from a country of szmalcowniks (blackmailers and informers) and the greatest number of Righteous among the Nations, from the country of Father Rydzik and the country of John Paul II, from a country of anti-Jewish graffiti on synagogue walls, and a country where thousands of non-Jews study Jewish history, culture and religion, from the country of the German death camps and the country of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, from the country of Shmuel Zygelboim, Mordechai Anielewicz and Marek Edelman, and from the country of Jan Karski, Jan Nowak-Jezioranski and Wladyslaw Bartoszewski. I come from the country of the Vaad Arba Aratzot, the Jewish Parliament of the Four Lands, from a country of countless shtetls, yeshivas and Hassidic courts, from a country of Jewish autonomy and pluralism and I come from a country of the numerous clausus, ghetto benches, pogroms and murder.
"I come from a country whose greatness was co-created by Jews who were Polish citizens. And I come from a country that after the war kicked out Polish citizens who were Jews. I come from a country of anti-Semitic madness where they burned Jews in barns. And I come from a country of Christian mercy where they hid Jews in barns.
"My name is Janusz Makuch. I come from Poland and I am a goy, and at the same time for more than 20 years I have created and run the largest Jewish culture festival in the world.
"I'm a Jewish Pole - and I'm proud of it."
Makuch continued in similar vein, and members of the audience, captivated by his oratory were literally poised on the edge of their seats. At the end of it he gave expression to his claim of being a Jewish Pole by reciting kaddish in measured, thoughtful tones seldom exercised by Polish Jews, or Jews from anywhere else for that matter, and in so doing, giving the prayer fresh significance.
Small wonder that Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska said of him: "If we could use the dybbuk in a good sense, Janusz is overwhelmed by a positive dybbuk."
Makuch returned the compliment by calling her "a wonderful ambassador in our second country - Eretz Israel."
n EARLIER IN the evening in the course of a dialogue with Israel Radio's Aryeh Golan, former Israel ambassador to Poland Szewach Weiss said of Magdziak-Miszewska that she was Poland's best export. She wasn't in the auditorium at the time, but was quickly informed after her arrival and blushed with pleasure.
Weiss and Golan were both born in Poland. Weiss came to Israel as a 12-year-old Holocaust survivor in 1947, the year in which Golan was born. The two frequently criss-cross between Israel and Poland. Weiss, who is an academic, teaches a course at the University of Warsaw, where Menachem Begin was once a student, and Golan, when he's not reporting on Polish events that are of specific interest to Israel, is invited to participate in Polish-Jewish and Polish-Israel conferences.
n ISRAEL'S INSTITUTES of higher learning have been conferring honorary doctorates over the past week or two, and more are in the offing. At least half the honorees are from abroad, but at the opposite end of the spectrum Israelis are being honored abroad.
Among them is entrepreneur Stef Wertheimer, who is about to construct a 14-dunam (1.4 hectare) industrial park in the Arab section of Nazareth, thereby depriving future VIP visitors to the city of a helipad. The project, modeled on his famous Tefen Park, will be built at an investment of NIS 15 million. Wertheimer will receive an honorary degree in social activism from Annandale-on-Hudson, New York's Bard College, whose president happens to be Leon Botstein, the music director and principal conductor of the Jerusalem Symphony orchestra. The degree will be conferred on May 23 in the course of Bard College's 149th commencement exercises.
n AMONG THE recipients of honorary doctoral degrees to be conferred next week by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is a citizen of an Arab country. It is extremely rare for Israeli institutes of higher learning to confer honorary doctorates on people from neighboring countries. Dr. Mohammed al-Hadid, president of the Jordan National Red Crescent Society and chairman of the Standing Commission of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, is an outstanding exception to the rule.
Hadid is well-known for his humanitarian work and promotion of public health, human rights and peace. Inter alia, he was instrumental in the founding of the Israeli-Jordanian academic program for emergency medicine, which will soon open at BGU. The award ceremony will take place on campus in the presence of Minister of Education Gideon Saar. The other recipients are actress Gila Almagor, artist Dani Karavan; historian Prof. Anita Shapira; chairman of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Prof. Dr. Bernhard Vogel; and philanthropist and chairman of Ben-Gurion University's Board of Governors Roy J. Zuckerberg.
n THE HEIRS of Ignaz and Clothilde Schachter, who fled from their home in Vienna to escape the Nazi persecution and settled in Haifa, had just about given up hope of recovering the paintings in the Schachter collection, which the couple were unable to take with them, in their haste to leave Austria. But just over a week ago, Hannah Lessing, secretary-general of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism, came to Israel and personally delivered "The Love Letter" by Johann Nepomuk Schodlberger to the surviving heirs of the couple. The painting was handed to its rightful owners at the recommendation of the Viennese Restitution Commission, which is dedicated to restoring to injured parties or their heirs property that was unlawfully seized by National Socialists.
n DOES A man embarking on a third marriage have a stag party? Apparently, yes. Yaakov Perry, the former head of the Shin Bet, later president and CEO of Cellcom and currently chairman of Mizrahi Tefahot, is having a bucks party at the Mitzpe Hayamim hotel at the end of the month, prior to his June 6 wedding to Osnat Markovitch. If he runs true to form, Perry, who might well have become a professional musician had he not embarked on a cloak and dagger career, will honor his bride with a saxophone serenade.