An ITALIAN AMBASSADOR Sandro De Bernardin, in company with Italian ambassadors worldwide, has opened a memorial book at the Italian embassy to enable people in Israel who want to express sympathy at the loss of great Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti to write down their feelings. De Bernardin has been inundated with condolence messages ever since news of Pavarotti's death became public knowledge. "He was a very effective real ambassador of Italy, not like me," says De Bernardin. "He made Italians abroad feel proud."
n FAITHFUL PAVAROTTI fan Inara Eihenbaums, the wife of the Latvian ambassador, is head of the Diplomatic Spouses Club, whose members include a significant number of ardent opera buffs who were heartsick over Pavarotti's demise. Eihenbaums sent a Web site link to all DSC members, enabling them to click on to a recording of Pavarotti singing "Ave Maria."
n LAST WEEK, British Ambassador Tom Phillips had Prince Edward as a house guest. Next, he made the residence available for a bar mitzva. The young man of the moment was Yehoshua Binyamin Rose, and guests included Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger.
n CONTROVERSY OVER the Pelephone commercial featuring Arkadi Gaydamak has had minimal effect. Critics protested that since Gaydamak heads a political organization, the party for Social Justice, which could parachute him into the Knesset or into the mayoral chambers in Jerusalem's City Hall, his appearance in the commercial is in violation of the elections law. That may be, but Gaydamak has not yet formally announced his intention to run for office. But the commercial does give insight into the thespian side of his character - and all things considered, he's not bad. By the way, his earnings for the commercial are going directly to Schneider Children's Hospital.
n IN LINE with his contention that most of the people who are being investigated for alleged corruption are not charged, President Shimon Peres, on the night prior to his 6 a.m. flight to Italy earlier this month, attended the wedding in Jerusalem of Ro'i Zaken to Natalie Sibony. The groom's mother happens to be Shula Zaken, the bureau chief of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Zaken was confined to house arrest and subsequently suspended from duty for her alleged role as mediator in a bribery, fraud, and breach-of-trust case involving her brother, Yoram Karashi, and former Tax Authority head Jacky Matza. The file on the investigation has not been closed.
Other dignitaries among the 1,000 guests included Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Finance Minister Ronni Bar-On and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik. The ceremony was performed by former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.
n IT WAS almost, but not quite, a black-and-white wedding when Miriam Saya married Eliyahu Perry at the Gutnick Banquet Halls in Jerusalem. The mothers and the grandmothers of both the bride and the groom wore black, and with just over a handful of exceptions, all the female guests wore black. This was in sharp contrast to the bride's high-necked and full-skirted white wedding gown.
No sooner was the ceremony under the bridal canopy completed, than the area was invaded by the groom's male relatives and friends, who joyfully danced with and around him, while the bride hugged her mother, her mother-in-law, the grandmothers and her great grandmother. Black is this season's "in" color, not only in the haredi community. Shula Zaken also chose a black gown for her son's wedding, whereas both the bride and the groom wore white.
n CAMEROON'S AMBASSADOR and Diplomatic Corps Dean Henri Etoundi Essomba has been left to his own devices by his wife, Esther, who is back in Cameroon helping their daughter care for their first grandchild, who, to their great joy, is a girl. Though in many cultures, it's more desirable for the first-born to be a boy, in Cameroon, the birth of a girl is said to bring good fortune to the family.
n AFTER YEARS of planning its relocation, the American International School finally moved from Kfar Shmariyahu to its new home in Even Yehuda near Netanya. Sunday's dedication of the spacious new campus attracted a huge turn-out of students, parents, teachers, alumni and members of the Even Yehuda Council. The event, which also signified the launch of the AIS jubilee year, was marked by the Israel Philatelic Service with a special stamp and postmark. In fact, all mail sent from Even Yehuda that day bore the AIS postmark. Established at the initiative of several Foreign Service wives who throughout 1957 looked for a "child-friendly" program close to home, the school had its beginnings in a rented room for eight children in Kfar Shmariyahu. From there, the classes moved to the Dan Accadia hotel in Herzliya, then to the basement of the synagogue in Kfar Shmariyahu, and finally in August, 1963 to the campus in Hazorea Street, Kfar Shmariyahu, where it remained a landmark for more than four decades. The school received enormous support from Walworth Barbour, after whom it is named. Barbour, America's longest-serving ambassador to Israel, who was here from 1961 to 1973, put his full weight behind the development of the school which Ambassador Richard Jones - appearing not only as a representative of the US government and State Department, but as the parent of two children at the school, and the husband of an employee at the school - described it as "one of the top international schools in the region."
Jones saw the dedication as a symbolic affirmation of America's commitment to Israel and faith in its future. While the AIS helped to spread American values, he said, it did so without diminishing the diverse cultures of its student body. AIS students come from all the countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations. Parents, by and large, are representatives of both the diplomatic and the wider international community in Israel, and alumni ultimately become goodwill ambassadors for Israel around the globe. Noting the huge number of flags flying at the entrance to the campus, Even Yehuda Chief Rabbi Aharon Batihi expressed the hope that they would all come together as one flag of peace, love and brotherhood. In honor of the occasion, and "to bring hearts together as one," he sounded the shofar with practiced expertise. Even Yehuda Mayor Amos Azan noted that as much as the dedication was a special event for teachers, students and parents, it was also a special event for Even Yehuda. "We're glad and proud to have you in our town," he said. He was also pleased to welcome AIS Superintendent Marsha Aaronson and her husband, Phil, as residents of Even Yehuda.
Some of the people present made long trips from abroad in order to be present. Among them were former chairman of the School Board, Larry Mandel, and Linda Sills - the widow of former superintendent Bob Sills - who came with their three children, and was given a standing ovation for her moving address. Sills was particularly thrilled that the magnificent rotunda library has been named the Robert A. Sills Library. Her husband had always wanted to be a librarian, she said, and no tribute to his memory could be more fitting.
The new campus will house 600 students, and has the capacity to absorb a total of 900. Aaronson made the point that the year ahead will be full of celebrations - the 50th anniversary of the AIS, the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel and the 75th anniversary of Even Yehuda.
n FORMER SOVIET Bloc countries and those of the former Soviet Union can somehow never forget that Israel was one of the first countries to recognize them after they achieved independence. This has enhanced relationships on many levels between Israel and the countries concerned. At the Slovakian Constitution Day reception at his residence, Ambassador Milan Dubcek recalled that Israel had officially recognized Slovakia on January 1, 1993, the date on which it achieved independence when it parted peacefully from Czechoslovakia. The Israeli Embassy opened in Bratislava in November, 2006, but even before that there were mutual visits of high-ranking dignitaries from Slovakia to Israel and from Israel to Slovakia. Relations between the two countries are booming, he said, not only politically, but economically and culturally. No Israeli dignitary can ignore the fact that Dubcek is the son of Alexander Dubcek, whose name will be forever linked with the Prague Spring Revolution of 1968, in which he introduced strong liberal reforms despite opposition from other Communist countries. Housing and Construction Minister Zeev Boim alluded to this when he said: "The people of Israel admire your father and his heritage."
Boim described Slovakia as "a good friend of Israel," and underscored that this friendship had been proved on more than one occasion within the EU and the UN. He also expressed appreciation for Slovakia's unflagging struggle against anti-Semitism, and for the fact that Holocaust Day is an official part of the Slovakian calendar. In this context, he singled out Slovakia's condemnation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "despicable" denial of the Holocaust.
n BRAZILIAN AMBASSADOR Pedro Motta Pinto Coelho celebrated his country's Independence Day on the same evening as Dubcek's Constitution Day celebration, but Dubcek's reception was earlier, and many of the guests who had been at the Slovakian affair continued on to the lawns of the Brazilian residence, to initially be entertained by Brazilian dancers and a Brazilian singer/guitarist. The ambassadors of the countries of South America were there in force, as were many members of Israel's Brazilian community.
During the singing of the national anthems, Coelho's voice rang out, and there was a chorus of equally proud voices across the lawn. Coelho was somewhat emotional, explaining that this was the first that he was celebrating Brazil's Independence Day in Israel, "a country we have come to love more and more every day." He spoke of the many Brazilians who have settled in Israel and have contributed in different ways to the country's development. In particular, he singled out David and Rachel Reznick, who came "as pioneers" and have helped build a solid relationship between Israel and Brazil. He also recalled that Brazil had been one of the 33 countries that in November, 1947, had voted for UN resolution 181, which provided the conditions for the creation of the state. He was looking forward to next year, when Brazil will be one of many nations joining Israel in celebrating its 60th anniversary of independence.
Bilateral trade is constantly improving, and is this year expected to surpass the $1 billion mark. Like many other countries, Brazil feels that it can play a more meaningful role in the peace process, and based on its own experience as a peace-loving democracy, can make a strong contribution, said Coelho. Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, who brought the greetings of the government, spoke of shared interests of the two countries in economics, politics, security and counter-terrorism, remarking wistfully, "I wish we could share a little more football."
n ISRAELI OFFICIALDOM is testing the patience of Uzbekistan Ambassador Farkhod Khakimov. In March, when he celebrated the 15th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Uzbekistan and Israel, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni did not show up till most of the other guests had gone, and Khakimov was nearly a nervous wreck. This month, Religious Affairs Minister Yitzhak Cohen, who represented the government at Uzbekistan's 16th Independence Day reception, was also late in arriving, and both Khaimov and Nitza Raz of the Foreign Ministry's Protocol Department, almost wore out the carpet at the Dan Panorama as they paced backwards and forwards waiting for Cohen to arrive. In the interim, guests were entertained by traditional Uzbekistan dancing and singing. Not all Cohens can be accused of tardiness. MK Amnon Cohen, who heads the Uzbekistan Parliamentary Friendship League, was there right from the start of the proceedings, as he had been in March. Minister Cohen finally arrived at 9 p.m.
Commenting that 16 years is a relatively short time span, Khakimov said that for his country it was a period of structural reform, rapid development and modernization. In moving towards democracy, Uzbekistan had introduced a multi-party system, he said, and now has five parties in parliament. Annual economic growth is seven percent. Israel was always one of Uzbekistan's important partners, said Khakimov, and one of the first countries to recognize the sovereign state of Uzbekistan, which will soon celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of its embassy in Tel Aviv. Friendship and brotherhood between Uzbeks and Jews extends back for more than 2,500 years, he said. Cohen emphasized the value that Israel places on its relations with Uzbekistan, a moderate Muslim state with two specific Jewish communities: the Bukharan community, which has lived there for centuries and the Ashkenazi community, made up largely of people who fled from Poland and the USSR during World War II and were given shelter by the Uzbeks. Israel will never forget the humanitarian role played by Uzbekistan during WWII, said Cohen, who noted that there had never been any discrimination against Jews in Uzbekistan.
n THE CELEBRATION in Israel of South African Women's Day has become an annual tradition that draws in wives and embassy staff from most of the African states, as well as South African expats and diplomats from other countries, such as Lithuanian Ambassador Asta Liauskiene; Slovenia's Deputy Head of Mission, Tanja MisË‡kova; Finland's DHM, Anu Pulkkinen; ambassadors' wives: Joan Jones, US; AdÃ©le Koudou, Cote D'Ivoire; Janet Olisa, Nigeria; Sosan Shin, Korea; and Dr. Shruti Shukla, wife of the DHM of India.
South African Ambassador Fumanekile Gqlibo made a brief appearance, explaining that because this was a celebration of women, he felt unqualified to address the audience. His wife, Vuyo, promptly took over and introduced the guest speaker - Chana Majake, who was on her first visit to Israel. The vivacious and charismatic Majake worked for the European Union Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa for five years as Gender Consultant, funding human rights organizations to further promote the culture of human rights in South Africa. She was also part of the National Planning Committee for the 4th United Nations World Conference on Women. Since it was South African Women's Day, Majake spoke extensively on women's issues. Among the points she made were that: men must become actively involved in gender issues and should even be leaders in the struggle for gender equality; human rights begins with peace; and one of the obstacles to gender equality is oppression of women by women. Majake concluded her address by saying: "If you empower a woman, you empower a nation."
n GREEK AUTHORITIES were appreciative of all the assistance received from abroad in the effort to combat the fires that swept through Greece last month. Greek ambassador to Israel Nicholas Zafiropoulous was so appreciative of the efforts of some 50-plus Israeli firefighters that he hosted a reception in their honor last week.
n THE NEWEST member of the Olmert family, Amalya Olmert-Ben Zvi arrived earlier this month. And yes, she is related - albeit not exactly biologically - to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his wife, Aliza. Amalya has two mothers - her birth mother, Dafna Ben Zvi, and her other mother, Dana Olmert, who is Ben Zvi's life partner and the prime minister's daughter. The senior Olmerts have consistently welcomed Ben Zvi as one of their own at family gatherings, and Amalya has been welcomed as a new granddaughter. A left-wing activist who participated in the Gay Pride parade, Dana Olmert is a literary critic and editor.
n WHILE ISRAEL is just getting ready for winter woollies, the fashion world is already looking at summer 2008. Designer Gideon Oberson was in the Big Apple earlier this month, participating in New York Fashion Week, where he showed off his stunning swimwear, some of which he designs under his own label, and some of which he designs under the label of former arch rival Gottex.