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NEXT YEAR, India, like Israel, will celebrate its 60th anniversary of independence. This year, the two countries will celebrate 15 years of diplomatic relations. In fact, the celebrations are due to begin next week.
Prior to the exchange of envoys, there was an Indian presence in Israel by way of immigrants and frequent visitors, some of whom were actively engaged in trying to promote diplomatic ties.
Among them were peace activist Abie Nathan, chief conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Zubin Mehta, and restaurateur Reena Pushkarna.
Before the arrival of Pradeep Kumar Singh, India's first ambassador to Israel, Pushkarna was known as India's unofficial ambassador.
The reason: she introduced the Israeli public to Indian cuisine, Indian culture, high-class fashion, hospitality and courtesy.
She has also assisted Kumar as well as subsequent Indian envoys, S. S. Menen, Ranjan Mathai, Raiminder Singh Jassal and present ambassador, Arun Kumar Singh, by introducing them to people they should know, and by supplying Indian food for many of their receptions.
She was a member of the business delegation that prime minister Ariel Sharon took with him to India, and the only Indian in the group.
Aside from having operated an Indian boutique, which she plans to revive, she has also run an Indian fashion show by getting members of the Indian community to lend their saris to non-Indians, who have then modeled them around the pool at the home of the Indian ambassador.
She also demonstrates Indian food preparations on television and in supermarkets, often bringing in Indian dancers and singers to add to the ambience.
She always wears traditional Indian garb to create instant awareness of India, and she is active in different sectors of Israel's Indian community.
Visiting Indian dignitaries almost always ask to visit one of her restaurants, because she is known in India, not only through word-of- mouth recommendations by government officials and top business people who've been to Israel, but also because Indian journalists stationed in Israel love to write about her for Indian publications, often referring to her as "the curry queen."
Pushkarna is proud of the fact that she introduced kosher Indian food to Israeli supermarkets, and then went into the export business, sending her kosher Indian heat-and-eat meals to the US and Europe.
But she is even prouder of the fact that so many peace negotiations, diplomatic dialogues and business meetings have taken place in one of her restaurants, including the exploratory talks that led to full diplomatic recognition between India and Israel.
It's something that she seldom talks about because she appreciates the need for discretion, but her photo album tells the stories.
She has hosted most of Israel's leading politicians, foreign peace envoys, high-ranking Palestinians, and several Indian ministers.
Many Israeli celebrities both from the world of business and the entertainment industry frequently dine at one of her restaurants, but she is no less attentive to people who have no claim to fame, and she gives generously to the various causes of the local Indian community. No-one will be happier than she to celebrate the 15th anniversary of diplomatic relations between "the two countries I love best in the world."
The 15th anniversary celebrations will include an Indian film festival, beginning August 18 at the Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa cinematheques. All the films have English subtitles, and most also have Hebrew subtitles. The selection includes some award-winning films.
BILLBOARDS AND advertisements for Jerusalem's annual International Arts and Crafts Fair stated that there was a musical performance every evening at 9.30 p.m.
First-night visitors on Monday night who knew that Tuvia Tsafir, one the nation's best comedians and impersonators would be there, wanted to assure themselves of a good seat from which to catch Tsafir's act.
For this reason, the rows of seats in the Sultan's Pool began to fill up from 8.30 p.m. onwards.
However, what the early birds sitting in the cold Jerusalem night air did not know was that the opening show was going to be broadcast live on Israel Television, and that the program would start closer to 10.30. Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski delivered greetings not from the stage but via large video screens, and when it was subsequently announced that there was also a message from the president of the state, the audience again looked expectantly at the screens, expecting to see Shimon Peres.
The greeting, though, came not from the screen, but from the stage. The voice was that of Peres, and there was a faint facial resemblance, but there was no mistaking the body.
It belonged to Tsafir, who later raised some more belly laughs with his impersonations of Binyamin Netanyahu and Amir Peretz whom he portrayed with uncanny accuracy.
As always, he was merciless, but without malice, and the audience cracked up with laughter especially during his Bibi impersonation, when he announced: "I finished economics in the United States and I'm going to finish the economy here."
Like Queen Victoria, Bibi would not have been amused.
Another first-night performer was singer Shiri Maimon, whose teeny bopper fans went wild, and began dancing in front of the stage as she sang.
They had to be shooed away because the area in front of the stage was reserved for the Karmiel Festival dancers.
But as soon as Maimon left the stage, her junior fans rushed across to the section from which she would exit so they could at least touch her if conditions prevented them from getting an autograph.
Other than the inconvenience of sitting for too long in the cold, this year's fair is arguably the best ever, with greater variety and more activities involving both adults and children. Its universal appeal was evidenced in the diversity of the people in the crowd. One thing is certain, when it comes to an open-air fair, political and religious differences don't count. Curiosity becomes a very common denominator.
WHEN YOUNGSTERS representing youth groups from all sides of the political spectrum converged on Beit Hanassi on Sunday and held an impromptu surprise birthday party for President Shimon Peres, some of them had more than his 84th birthday in mind.
Noar Ha'oved Ve'halomed (Working and Studying Youth), to which Peres can trace his own public-service roots, was equally interested in calling on the president to intervene in the matter of the refugees from Sudan, and to publicly come out against any decision to deport them.
A statement released by Noar Ha'oved on the same day that Holocaust survivors marched in Jerusalem to draw attention to their dire economic plight said that the whole concept of wanting to deport Darfur refugees to Egypt is reminiscent of the harshest days in Jewish history.
JERUSALEM GREAT Synagogue choir member and soloist Zeev-Natan Jaffe always has something to sing about, but last week he had even greater reason to raise his voice in joy.
He had proposed marriage to Giselle Gugenheim, and the response had been affirmative. The engagement coincided with the launch of the synagogue's 25th anniversary celebrations - which was a happy coincidence in more ways than one.
The synagogue was founded by the groom-to-be's late grandfather, Dr. Maurice Jaffe, as a memorial to the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust and all the men and women who laid down their lives in defense of Israel.
It could almost be said that Zeev-Natan was born in the Great Synagogue. There are congregants, including spiritual mentor Rabbi Zalman Druk, who remember his brit and his barmitzva.
Like his grandmother, Ella Jaffe, whom synagogue director Rabbi George Finkelstein referred to as "the first lady of the Great Synagogue," his uncle, Zali Jaffe, vice president of the synagogue, and his father, Elli Jaffe, who conducts the choir, Zeev-Natan has been actively involved with the Great Synagogue for much of his life.
His mother, Jacqueline Jaffe, is also extremely active. No less delighted by the engagement than the Jaffe side of the family were his maternal grandparents, Avraham and Jane Chana Stein.
The bride-to-be is the daughter of Elie and Ariela Gugenheim of Mexico and the granddaughter of Mordecai and Adina Katz of Mexico and Rabbanit Claude Anne Gugenheim of Israel.
To celebrate the engagement and the start of the synagogue's 25th anniversary festivities, the Jaffe family hosted a sumptuous Kiddush last Saturday.
AT ISRAEL Television, they're wracking their brains about how to give Haim Yavin a more dramatic and memorable send-off than that which Gadi Sukenik received at Channel 2 recently.
Yavin is due to present his final Marat report at the end of this month, after some 40 years as a news anchor, give or take the occasional break. One of the ideas they're toying with is a "This is your life" (Haim Sheka'eileh) special - and a word play employing Yavin's first name.
While they're busy with their plans for Yavin, they're also angry that his possible replacement may come from outside Channel 1 headquarters in Romema.
One of the candidates is Oshrat Kotler, who used to have her own news show on Channel 2. According to a story released in Maariv, the Israel Broadcasting Authority management commissioned a survey to learn whom the public would want as a replacement for Yavin, and Kotler was way ahead of anyone else.
Considering her long absence from the small screen and the fact that she's not an IBA employee, plus the fact that the even-tempered, highly intelligent and extremely knowledgeable Geula Even was previously considered to be the front runner, the survey results seem to be a little dubious to some.
The idea of taking an outsider when there's so much talent within the IBA, especially at a time when so many people will lose their jobs if and when the much-discussed reforms are implemented, they say, is a slap in the face to those who give so much of themselves to the IBA.
As one veteran staff member put it: "The trouble with the IBA is not the staff but the management."
EVERYONE WHO goes with any degree of regularity to a fashion show knows that they never start on time. But that didn't reassure the glitterati who rose early last Sunday to view and be viewed at Castro's Fall/Winter showing at Hangar 11 at the Tel Aviv Port.
Notwithstanding the fact that the invitations listed the event as starting at 10 a.m., the people who are generally part of the night owls' club were already lining up at 9.30 a.m., possibly because some of them, judging by the way they were dressed, had not been to bed, or they wanted to get to the buffet breakfast before the crowd, or more likely, they wanted to be captured in the frames of the paparazzi.
The presence of the celebs is no less important than the product being launched, because in the minds of the fans of any of these attention-getters, the product is automatically associated with the celebrity even if he or she has nothing to do with it beyond being at the launch and maybe taking home a promotional give-away.
Unlike American and European celebrities who often get into altercations with the paparazzi, the Israeli celebs are extremely cooperative.
The paparazzi cluster inside the entrance to the premises, and the celebs obligingly pose for photos, just as they pass the doorway.
Then they move forward just a little bit for the benefit of the video cameras and the interviewers, while the stills photographers pounce on their next celeb.
Gatecrashing these events, which was once a popular Israeli pastime, is not so easy any more. Entrances are guarded by security personnel. Invitees' names are stored in a bank of computers and everyone is double and triple checked before they are issued with name tags and seat numbers printed while they wait, and only then are they permitted to enter the inner sanctum.
The dimly lit, black floored lobby of Hangar 11 was furnished with red and black leather sofas and armchairs. Tables of healthy breakfast food lined the walls.
Numerous black-clad waiters and waitresses glided through the huge area replenishing platters and removing dirty dishes.
All of them wore T-shirts emblazoned in silver with the Castro slogan, "Designed for Desire," on the back, and Castro Fashion Show Fall/Winter 2007/2008 on the front.
Celebrities included Maya Bouskila, who wore a white bubble dress and spent a lot of time chatting to make-up maven Mickey Boganin, who sported a diamond ear-ring.
Boganin also attracted the attention of boisterous actress Maya Dagan, who wore pale khaki shorts cuffed high on the thigh, a white T-shirt and a pale blue denim jacket that she teamed with high heeled red shoes.
Nava Barak, in white pants topped by a bright green sleeveless blouse, looked fresher than some of the young models, who were less than half her age, and Orna Datz, in a low-cut, black baby doll dress over cuffed denim capris, was interviewed by just about everyone who had a microphone.
Gilat Ankori chose to wear a steel-colored ruched dress, which was a little ornate for that time of day, and was photographed by a paparazzo, who showed her the result with which she was happy.
She fared better than veteran celeb Karin Dansky, whom photographers generally ignored.
Castro spokespeople Ran and Hila Rahav worked the crowd in their usual manner, bestowing a kiss here, a hug there, and a handshake where appropriate - and always remembering the name of the person they were greeting.
The fashion show was well over an hour late in getting started and no one was allowed into the runway area till just before 11 a.m.
Security guards stood in front of the heavy black curtains to prevent anyone from sneaking in.
Castro Co-CEO Etty Rotter, who always makes a point of wearing something from the current collection at every new showing, used to favor white, but this time switched to a black strapless dress with a glitter waist band.
Rotter always gets emotional when she opens a new show - and this time was no exception.
Even so, she did not forget to thank everyone who had a hand in putting the show together. She's a person who believes in giving credit where it's due.
At the end of the show, she called out the names of all the designers, headed by Dalia Kapuza, who's been setting the trend for Castro for more than 20 years.
If the show is an indicator, this winter will be brighter than winters past.
In previous years, fall/winter colors were grey, brown, black and forest green, with an occasional bright color to relieve the gloom. Although there are browns and greys this coming season, they're paired with pastels and ultra brights, even in men's wear.
It won't be uncommon to see men in violet pants, a turquoise T-shirt, a canary yellow belt, or a watermelon-pink vest or jacket.
The same color combinations can be used in other mix-and-match options, and are also dominant in female apparel.
When one fashion writer turned to another to remark on how unusual it was to see so many bright colors in men's wear, the rejoinder was: "Not at all. You've got more people who are openly gay, and generally speaking, gay men are more fashion conscious than straights - so it's their season."
A NOT insignificant number of well-known people are former students of the Gymnasia Herzliya, the original building of which stood on the site now occupied by the Shalom Meir Tower in Tel Aviv.
Every graduating class had its share of students who would go on to great achievements.
The 36th graduating class included people such as Yitzhak Zamir, who became attorney general and later a Supreme Court judge, and Mordechai Virshuvsky, who was a long-time member of Knesset and later a member of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Council, where he still sits.
Agronomist Israel Veissler, who was also in that class, puts out a periodical to update former classmates on what's happening to people they knew in their youth.
Former long-time fashion writer for Yediot Aharonot, Nurit Bat Yaar, who is not old enough to have been in that class, was surprised one day to see in Veissler's publication a photograph of herself from her pre-fashion writing days when she worked as a model.
To explain the inclusion of the photograph, Veissler wrote that after he completed his university studies he decided to go to America to see how the farmers there worked in agriculture.
He acquired a list of some 30 farmers, and before visting them sent each a postcard explaining who he was and why he wanted to meet them.
At the time, Israel was noted for its oranges and Veissler selected a package of postcards in which Bat Yaar had been photographed in an orange grove.
The farmers were smitten with the girl featured on the postcard and asked who she was.
Beyond knowing her name, Veisler could tell them nothing about her. At one farm, there were twin brothers who fought over the postcard and insisted that he give them another one so that each could have the beautiful blonde girl from Israel for himself.
They even spoke of going to Israel to look for her. Several years later, not knowing whether the farmers had ever gone to Israel and found Bat Yaar, Veisler bumped into her at a Gymnasia Herzliya reunion.
She was married to his former classmate, Dr. Avraham Soriano, who had also gone to America, but not to interview farmers. He worked with the Pentagon.
Soriano had been one of the school's sports champions and had won the national 100-meter race. He also excelled at other sports, and won many trophies. His speed was not only in his legs. He married Bat Yaar when they had known each other only 10 days - and decades later, they're still in love.