WHEN FORMER president of Poland Lech Walesa paid a visit in January 2008, his entourage included Rabbi Shalom DovBer Stambler, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch in Poland. Stambler invited Walesa to Kfar Chabad where his family is quite influential. Chabad was baking matzot for Passover at the time, and Walesa also tried his hand at rolling the dough. During his stay, Walesa was escorted by Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak Miszewska, whom the people at Kfar Chabad did not forget. It was not her first encounter with anyone from Chabad. In September 2006 members of the Stambler family came with President Lech Kaczynski on his state visit, and when President Shimon Peres paid an official visit to Poland in April last year, Chabad representatives were invited to various events in which he participated, so she had a chance to see them again.
Last Succot, she was invited to come to the main Succa at Kfar Chabad, and in the course of her visit, was taken on a tour of Ohr Simha, a facility that cares for boys at risk and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds in family style settings in which young Chabad couples with children of their own act as surrogate parents. The ambassador was impressed, and when she learned that 12 of the boys were celebrating their bar mitzva this year and that Chabad was looking for a suitable venue in which to hold the celebration, she spontaneously offered her residence. The offer was taken up with enthusiasm. Last week, Chabad came to the residence in Kfar Shmaryahu and kashered her kitchen.
For Magdziak Miszewska, the festivities on her lawn constituted a double celebration in that in the same week, she celebrated the third anniversary of the presentation of her credentials. For Chabad there was great symbolism in that the bar mitzva celebration took place on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneersohn.
A large contingent of Chabad rabbis attended to give moral support to the boys who were all dressed in black pants and vests over snow white short sleeved shirts and colorful striped ties with big black velvet kippot on their heads. The ambassador, whose usual attire is pants with sleeveless tops, in deference to the occasion looked as if she'd come straight out of Bnei Brak. Her sleeves covered her elbows, the hemline of her skirt was below mid-calf and her neckline was at her collarbone. She had also instructed all the female members of her staff to dress modestly and they came suitably covered up but grumbled when they saw the style of some of the female guests who came in strapless and backless garb and dresses in which there was very little fabric between the neckline and the hemline.
The 12 boys - Eitan Ilayev, Sasha Gavran, Sa'adiya Hillel, Yehuda Lavie, Dima Shefer, Dolev Maman, Eli Molokvadov, Natanel Maiman, Schneur Sabag, Michael Barski, Asher Krokov and Ya'acov Trotman - sat at a head table facing the guests. They had come out of the house one at a time as their names were called and had shaken hands with Ohr Simha director Rabbi Zev Slavin, who later walked the length of the table kissing each boy on the forehead.
Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau was initially scheduled to address the 12 boys, but due to another commitment was unable to do so. However they did not miss out on a Lau oration. The rabbi sent one of his sons, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Lau, who though more softly spoken, is obviously an apple from the same tree. It was good that his father did not come, he said, because he could say things that his father was unable to say. Everyone sees Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau as a happy, jovial person, but when he came here as an orphaned refugee whose childhood had been traumatized by his Holocaust experiences, he was an embittered little boy, said the son. Fortunately he came to the attention of Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, the head of the Ponevez Yeshiva who established Beit Avot, a facility similar to that of Ohr Simha, which he did not want to call an orphanage, so he called it Beit Avot in the anticipation that all its boys would become fathers in the future.
"I was fortunate to grow up in the kind of home that I grew up in because my father received the same kind of loving care that you are getting," Lau told the youngsters. He was very pleased to be at the ambassador's residence because his connection with Poland is not only due to the fact that his father and several generations of ancestors were born there. Last year he officiated at a wedding at Krakow's Izaak Synagogue, which is run by Chabad, and recently he returned for the circumcision of the couple's first child.
While the bar mitzva celebration was largely conducted in Hebrew and English, the ambassador, who was beaming with pride and goodwill, chose to speak in Polish so that she could express what was truly in her heart. After visiting Ohr Simha, she said, she had thought of what positive thing she could do to indicate the extent to which she had been impressed, and the evening's event was the result. "I am happy to have become a part of the mitzva at this significant, transitionary time in your lives," she said. "You are still children but you are taking on the responsibilities of adults. Be successful, spread your wings and be proud of your achievements."
No Jewish mother could have said it better.
n MILITARY AND defense attachÃ©s from several countries were crowded around Major Cecil Davis, a veteran of the Korean War, who as a B-29 pilot in the US Air Force flew 31 sorties and chalked up 300 flying hours. Davis, who was initially in the US Army Air Corps, was one of four veterans of the Korean War who were singled out to receive peace medals and certificates from Korean Ambassador Ma Young-Sam. He was the only one who turned up in uniform. It was the uniform he wore in Korea, and it still fitted his trim frame. The attachÃ©s wanted to know what it was like being a combat pilot more than half a century ago. The other recipients were Cpl. Bernard Sperber, who served in the US Army as a member of the 45 Infiltration Division (Thunderbird) and was wounded in battle; navy photographer David Hendelman who was with the Seventh Fleet, and PFC Irwin Goldstein, who said that his family sings a Korean melody at the Sabbath table. He proceeded to sing it and most of close to 25 other veterans present sang it with him or hummed the tune. The invitation to the Jewish veterans to come to his residence was Ma's way of acknowledging his country's debt of gratitude to soldiers, sailors and airmen who had "risked their lives for a country they never knew and people they had never met."
Ambassadors and other diplomatic representatives of some of the 16 countries whose troops had joined the UN forces in driving back the North Koreans were present, and enthusiastically congratulated Ma on his initiative. Israel had not been part of the military effort, but was one of a handful of countries that sent medical aid. However Israel in Ma's opinion had done something instrumental in bringing the war to an end. Between them Gideon Raphael, Abba Eban and Moshe Sharett had come up with a resolution that would put a halt to the conflict, but while their proposal was looked on with favor, it didn't have a hope of passing if it was put forward by the Israeli delegation to the UN General Assembly. Rather than to allow pride to dictate its attitude, Israel agreed to have a European country propose the resolution - and it was passed. However South Korea did not forget whose concept it really was. To prove this, Ma made presentations to Ya'acov Sharett, the son of Moshe Sharett, Suzy Eban, the widow of Abba Eban, and Amnon Raphael, the son of Gideon Raphael. Ma even went beyond this and made a presentation to Meron Mezini, the son of noted journalist Moshe Medzini who had covered the Korean War for Haaretz.
Next year, on the 60th anniversary of North Korea's aggression, Ma hopes to have more veterans present and to hand out more certificates and medals. At least one of the war veterans who attended also served in the IDF. Ben Robbins, who had served in the US Navy, and had spent six months with the Korean navy teaching crew members how to use a boat that been a gift from the US, was one of the oldest soldiers in the First Lebanon War, serving in the Armored Corps while two of his sons served in the IAF.
n While many Israelis go backpacking in India after completing their army service or university studies, India is seeking to increase incoming tourism from Israel especially in categories other than backpackers. Ambassador Navtej Sarna and his wife Avina, who are keen to make their country more widely known and explored, hosted a reception at their residence in Herzliya Pituah for a visiting delegation from India headed by Padmaja Kumari Mewar, of the erstwhile princely state of Mewar, who manages a heritage chain of hotels and resorts in Udaipur, the beautiful city of palaces and lakes in fabled Rajasthan. Israel's tourism industry was well represented among the guests by a host of CEOs of tourism promotion companies as well as airline representatives. Also present was the visiting vice chief of the Indian Navy, Admiral Raman P. Suthan, and his wife as well as senior representatives from Israel's defense establishment. It seems while the India attracts Israeli defense exporters, the Israeli market attracts India's hoteliers, royal or otherwise.
n WHEN PRESIDENT Shimon Peres last week participated in the IAF ceremony in which graduates of the pilots' course were given their wings, the star attraction was Assaf Ramon, whose late father Ilan was the country's first astronaut. Assaf may one day take his father's place on a successful NASA mission, or better still an all-Israeli venture into space. Although it was a very special moment for Assaf's mother Rona Ramon, it was no less exciting for the other parents, with whom Peres could identify, because some three decades ago, he had been like them when his son Chemi earned his wings. Now a venture capitalist, Chemi Peres served as a pilot in the IAF for 10 years.
n JUST A few weeks prior to their departure, French Ambassador Jean-Michel Casa and his wife Isabella hosted a reception at the French residence in Jaffa in honor of Lev Cinemas founder Nurit Shani, archeologist Israel Finkelstein, composer and conductor Gil Shohat, Susan Dallal Center director-general Yair Vardi and Waltz with Bashir film director Ari Folman in recognition of their tremendous contribution to the strengthening of cultural ties between Israel and France. Although the evening was largely informal, the ambassador introduced a brief formal note when he conferred upon each of the honorees France's National Order of Arts and Letters.
n AFTER FOUR years here, the time has come for genial Irish Ambassador Michael Forbes to return home. While many ambassadors forge friendships with fellow countrymen in the countries to which they are assigned, Forbes had a particularly warm relationship with members of Israel's Irish community, and with only one exception, attended all the events of the Israel Ireland Friendship League, doing the rounds at each event to have a brief chitchat with each person present. This personal touch endeared him enormously to all the Irish expats, as did his delicious sense of humor.
Although he is yet to throw his own farewell bash at his residence in Herzliya Pituah, where according to the invitation he will serving kosher canapÃ©s, he was officially farewelled last week by the IIFL at a mixed cultural event at Beth Hatefutsoth. All those who came were first taken on a tour of the outstanding exhibition on Norwegian Jews, which impressed them so much, that there was a spontaneous outcry for a similar exhibition on Irish Jews, whose origins are much the same as those from Norway. Forbes thought that this was a great idea, but said he would leave it to his successor to help out with whatever assistance the embassy could give. He told the group that his successor, with whom he had gone to Jesuit school, was a great fellow who they would quickly get to know and like.
The other cultural event was an address by Tom Garvin, a professor of politics and one of Ireland's leading historians, who like Forbes went to a Jesuit school, and speaks with a delightful Irish brogue. Before he went on stage, Garvin who arrived in the predawn hours of the same day and had not had any sleep, told an acquaintance that he was terrified of speaking to an unknown audience. To which the rejoinder was: "But they're all Irish!"
A special presentation of a painting of Galilee flowers was made to Forbes by Malcolm Gafson, the gregarious and garrulous chairman of the IIFL, who called Forbes "a people ambassador" who personifies the friendship between Ireland and Israel. For his part Forbes said: "Malcolm, you spent four years trying to make me speechless - and you've finally succeeded." He had always enjoyed his IIFL experiences, said Forbes. "It was home away from home. I'm going to miss you all very much."
n LAST YEAR, when she turned 90, people thought that Esther Lucas might finally slow down. But the energetic and adventurous nonagenarian remains active and maintains a youthful spirit. A few months ago, she travelled to France for a family reunion, and a few weeks ago, went to England where a memorial service was being held for her sister, who like her was an Oxford graduate. Walking history, not only by virtue of her age, but also in terms of her career, Lucas worked as a member of the British Foreign Office in the United Nations Preparatory Commission, was present at the initial meetings of the UN Security Council and the General Assembly and at the founding of the World Health Organization. Raised in an intensely Zionist household, in which all the leaders of the Yishuv were guests when they came to London, it was only natural that she would make her home here, especially when she fell in love with Eric Lucas, who preceded her to Kfar Blum.
Following her arrival in 1946, she joined the Hagana and worked in the political department of the Jewish Agency. In 1950, she and her husband left the kibbutz and settled in Herzliya Pituah where she still lives and where she became a major force in the city's educational system. She has also been active in UNESCO and UNICEF with which she remains associated. She continues to lecture extensively here and abroad, and hers is a familiar face at diplomatic events. She is the honorary president of the UNESCO Associated Schools Project (ASPnet) in Israel, and was its national coordinator in the 1980s. Some half century ago, she brought the Herzliya School, now called Harishonim, into the project, and she and the school have been involved ever since.
The international coordinator of the project came from Paris last week to attend the sixth European national coordinators' meeting of ASPnet at Beit Berl, and presented Lucas with a medal and a certificate signed by the director-general of UNESCO acknowledging her contributions to the promotion of education in favor of a culture of peace, nonviolence and international understanding.
n THERE'S NO denying that a 50th birthday is a landmark in someone's life, and it is to the credit of business tycoon Matthew Bronfman that he chose to celebrate his half century here, where his business partner Sholem Fischer hosted a gala reception in his honor attended by the country's business and commerce elite that included Nochi Dankner, Yitzhak Tshuva, Galia Maor, Shlomo Nehama and many others. The festivities were held at the Orka restaurant, one of the many wine and dine facilities at the Port of Tel Aviv, where Joseph Ciechanover, the Bronfman family representative on the IDB Board of Directors, read a message from President Peres who was unable to attend because he was on a state visit to Azerbaijan. In the message, Peres referred to Bronfman as a true friend and a Jew who was loyal to his people and the State of Israel. Despite his many visits to Israel, Bronfman still can't get used to the generally casual mode of attire. He was one of the very few people wearing a suit and tie.
n APROPOS THE Peres visit to Azerbaijan, there was an indirect Jerusalem Post connection. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Arthur Lenk, who escorted Peres to his various meetings and events, is married to Ruth Koval, who for several years worked as head of the Post's graphics department.
n EACH OF us is subject to a myriad of influences which govern the course of our lives, but mostly we only realize this with hindsight, and not when it's actually happening. Education Minister Gideon Saar, speaking to an audience at the Jabotinsky Institute at the launch of a new edition of a volume of Jabotinsky's letters, said that had he not spent so much time at the institute during his early teens, he doubted whether his life would have taken the direction it did. Saar, 43, said that as a high school student, he had worked during vacations to earn enough money to buy books. He was particularly interested in political and historical biographies related to leaders of the Zionist movement and often visited the Jabotinsky Institute's archives. "This is an exceptionally important and dynamic institution," he said, and reflected that moves toward national unity immediately before and after the creation of the state had come from the right. Jabotinsky Institute director Yossi Ahimeir noted that Jabotinsky had published his first article in 1898 when he was only 18, at which time he had criticized the manner of awarding credits in the Russian school system.
n EL AL executives and major shareholders along with leading members of Britain's travel industry celebrated the 60th anniversary of the airline's Tel Aviv-London route at a festive gathering in the gallery of Anita Zabludowicz. El Al CEO Haim Romano and company chairman Amikam Cohen flew to London for the occasion to join El Al's London representative Uri Dinur and British-Israeli businessman Poju Zabludowicz, who has shares in Knafaim which has the controlling interest in El Al, in hosting the event. Despite a downturn in his fortunes, Zabludowicz ranked 18th in the Sunday Times rich list, in which fellow member of the tribe Roman Abramovich holds second place and father and son Sammy and Eyal Ofer have the eighth slot. Guests had an opportunity to view a photo exhibition of the history of El Al.
n IT'S A long standing tradition for members of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel to come together to celebrate Canada Day and American Independence Day. In the past, the date of their celebration has been in keeping with American Independence Day. This year the festivities are today, which is Canada Day. And guess what? American Independence Day has moved from July 4 to July 1 at the residence of US Ambassador James Cunningham, who this evening will be hosting the traditional ceremony that culminates in a spectacular fireworks display.