IT WAS already 8 p.m., the starting time for the official Fourth of July ceremony at the residence of US Ambassador James Cunningham and his wife Leslie, but it seemed as if many of the invitees were giving the event a miss - perhaps because it was being held on July 1.
Actually much of the crowd was still outside, waiting to get in. Even people with protektzia such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his wife Nili and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon made it only just in time. Apparently there was a delay with security checks that impacted on hundreds of the guests.
Although there were lots of empty patches of grass when the ceremony started, by the time it finished the lawn was like a sardine can. Guests were supplied with paper fans in an attempt to assuage the effects of the grueling humidity.
There was greater media representation than usual, in part because reporters and photographers wanted to see how many right-wing politicians had heeded the call by Likud MK Danny Danon to boycott the event. Some of the invitees were in Kazakhstan with President Shimon Peres, so they didn't really count among the absentees. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman did put in an appearance, as did members of the haredi parties.
After the usual exchange of platitudes in praise of each other's countries and comments about a relationship of shared values of democracy and freedom, the Cunninghams and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah went inside the house - but not before Netanyahu had remarked in his speech that Emma Lazarus, whose immortal words are engraved on the Statue of Liberty, was a good Zionist.
In past years, when the guest of honor - the president or the prime minister or both - graced the celebration, they left soon after the ceremony. But on this occasion the Netanyahus hung around for magnificent fireworks display that rounded off the evening. No sooner did they emerge from the house than they were engulfed by people who wanted to exchange a few words with them. Less than a meter away, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni was happily posing for photos with anyone who asked.
At least three former ambassadors to the US were on hand: Zalman Shoval, Itamar Rabinovich and Danny Ayalon. There may have been others, but the crowd was so thick that it was impossible to catch up with everybody. Among the diplomats present were Canadian Ambassador Jon Allen and his wife Clara Hirsch. Due to the fact that the Fourth of July fell on a Saturday, the celebration was pushed back to July 1, which is actually Canada Day, but Allen was not a cohost to the event.
PATRIOTISM IS sometimes exaggerated to the point of the absurd. Dalit Kool, who is responsible for overseeing banqueting and catering arrangements at Beit Hanassi, cast an eye over the trays of sweet nibbles on the coffee tables awaiting the entry of German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier and some of the members of his entourage. Pouncing on a well known Italian brand of confections, she demanded that they be removed.
"But we don't have anything else," protested a member of the housekeeping staff. Kool was not interested in hearing excuses. "Too bad," she responded. "They'll just have to make do with less on the tray. I will not allow you to serve products that are not made in Israel. Thank goodness I noticed in time."
WHILE ON the subject of Beit Hanassi, the seemingly indefatigable President Shimon Peres, immediately after concluding his meeting with Steinmeier on Monday, set off for a series of meetings and events in different parts of the Galilee. On Tuesday, he flew to Cairo to meet with President Hosni Mubarak, today he's receiving the credentials of new ambassadors and tomorrow he's due to go to Kibbutz Negba, once the southernmost settlement in the country, to join in its 70th anniversary celebrations. A Tower and Stockade settlement that in its time created new realities on the ground, Negba also valiantly resisted Egyptian air and ground attacks during the War of Independence.
It should be remembered that Peres traveled to Azerbaijan and Khazakstan last week and that when he's in the country, in addition to his presidential engagements, he also attends a lot of weddings, bar mitzvas, theater premieres, etc. Oh, and by the way, he will celebrate his 86th birthday on August 2.
ALTHOUGH IT was announced a couple of months back that the emperor of Japan had decided to confer the Order of the Rising Sun on Hebrew University Prof. Zwi Werblowsky, who is one of Israel's pioneers of Asian studies in general and Japanese studies in particular, it didn't quite prepare the unknowing for the charm of the ceremony that was hosted by Japanese Ambassador Haruhisa Takeuchi and his wife Nabuko.
Although the Takeuchis are very modern, tradition is tradition, and there was a lot of bowing and smiling with embassy staff being particularly attentive to the guests who were mainly members of Werblowsky's family as well as several of his former students including Hebrew University president Menahem Ben-Sasson, a former rector of the university who took three years out of academia to serve as a Kadima MK and chairman of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Another of Werblowsky's students who later became a colleague was Prof. Ben Ami Shiloni, a specialist in East Asian studies.
Both Ben-Sasson and Shiloni spoke with obvious admiration and affection of Werblowsky's erudition, his tea ceremonies, the carnation that was always in his buttonhole, his involvement with the language, culture and tradition of Japan, the manner in which he opened the eyes and minds of his students to the richness of another culture, the kimonos that he wore at home, the harmony he exuded and his multifaceted interests and areas of expertise.
In a show of mock modesty, Werblowsky questioned Haruhisa as to the competence of the emperor's advisers who had suggested that he be the recipient of so great an honor. According to the ambassador, the Order of the Rising Sun is the oldest Japanese decoration and dates back to 1875. It was awarded to Werblowsky in recognition of his contribution to Japanese studies in Israel and in the international arena.
IS AN Israel Radio rival tempting Yaron Dekel, an award winning political commentator and anchorman for It's All Talk, with an offer that he'll find hard to refuse? It would seem so judging by all the hyped-up promos that Israel Radio is giving to Dekel seven days a week, even in the wee small hours. The promos are not only for his program but for the man himself. While it's true that Dekel is very astute, and when appearing on television looks like the cat that's swallowed the cream, the Israel Broadcasting Authority does have some other very bright people. But from the sound of the promos, it would seem that none of them has the professional savvy of Dekel, which is not exactly the case.
ALTHOUGH SHE made some attempt at objectivity when interviewing Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and leading author A.B. Yehoshua on Israel Radio last Thursday, Ayala Hasson could not really approach the subject dispassionately. Both Rivlin and Yehoshua are alumni of Jerusalem's Gymnasia Rehavia, the centenary of which was celebrated on Thursday evening. As it happens Hasson is also a graduate, as are many of the country's leading figures in many walks of life.
Not everyone who attended the festivities stood around and reminisced or peered with undisguised nostalgia at photographs of their school days completed their high school studies at the Gymnasia. Some, such as Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i, spent only a couple of years there, but nonetheless forged life time friendships. Vilna'i had gone on to the Haifa Military College, while other students had moved to other schools in and beyond Jerusalem.
The crowd included representatives of three and four generation students of the school. Amos Mar-Haim, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, had attended the Gymnasia, as had his father before him and his son after him - but his grandson had not continued the family tradition. Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor and his brother former ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor are Gymnasia alumni, as is Kadima MK Nahman Shai. So are well known journalists and broadcasters such as Yair Stern, Chemi Shalev, Ivri Gilad and Gil Hovev.
Other noted alumni who are no longer alive include presidents Izhak Ben-Zvi and Ephraim Katzir, former chief of General Staff and noted archeologist Yigael Yadin, head of Central Command during the Six Day War Uzi Narkiss, IDF general, historian and politician Rehavam Ze'evi, who was assassinated by the PFLP in October 2001, and Yoni Netanyahu, the hero of the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation and the brother of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Few other schools have produced so many famous people who made their mark in so many different fields.
KNESSET MEMBER Anastasia Michaeli has been the focus of media attention this week having made history as the first woman MK to give birth. Her eighth child, a boy, weighed in at 3.4 kg. at 4 a.m. on Sunday at Sheba Medical Center. It took only a couple of hours for e-mails with the news to be sent out by Michaeli and her spokesman Elinadav Heiman. Not only that, but when the television camera crews showed up at the hospital, Michaeli, of Israel Beiteinu and a former fashion model and television presenter, was not about to receive them in her nightgown. She was fully dressed, her figure remarkably restored, and surrounded by her other seven children.
So far she is the only female MK with so many children although there are and have been male MKs with more. Former foreign minister David Levy is the father of 12, one of whom MK Orli Levy, is also a former fashion model and television presenter, is a member of the same party as Michaeli and has three children of her own. Meir Porush, who celebrates his 54th birthday on Saturday, has 12 children. Yitzhak Cohen has 10. The late Avraham Ravitz had 12 children and 77 grandchildren.
Media reports said that Michaeli's baby was born on the birthday of her party's leader Avigdor Lieberman. That being the case, whoever is in charge of the Knesset Web site should change the date on Lieberman's listing which gives his birthday as June 5, not July 5. By the way, Michaeli's birthday is this coming Sunday. She will be 34. David, her oldest child is 11. If she keeps going at this rate, she should have another eight children by the time she's 45.
ARE PEOPLE born in February prone to white collar crimes? The question arises because three prominent politicians, all former ministers, who were convicted on both various and similar charges of corruption were born in February. Aryeh Deri whose period of disgrace ends this month, Shlomo Benizri and Avraham Hirchson all came into the world in February, albeit in different years.
AS ALWAYS, on the anniversary of the death of well known kabbalist Rabbi Shlomo Ifergan, all roads led to Netivot where he lived and where he was buried 15 years ago. His son, Rabbi Ya'acov Yisrael Ifergan, 41, popularly known as Harentgen (the X ray), in recognition of his remarkable powers of clairvoyance, hosted the annual wake for his father. In addition to the huge graveside ceremony, there was a feast fit for kings at the city's Garden of Eden banquet hall.
Descended from a Moroccan dynasty that can trace its lineage for five centuries, Ifergan progressed from being an ordinary yeshiva student to an influential mystic, sought out by the rich and famous as well as the poor and desperate. His office is flooded with phone calls, faxes and e-mails as well as with people who come to seek blessings and a glimpse into their futures.
Among the many who consult with him on a regular basis is business tycoon and IDB chairman Nochi Dankner, who was among those who made the pilgrimage to Netivot. Roni Milo, a former government minister and a former mayor of Tel Aviv, said at his daughter's recent wedding that he had been fearful that she might not get married and had consulted Ifergan who had assured him that she would marry sooner than he thought. That is indeed what happened, and Milo was happy to repeat the story in Netivot.
Kadima MKs and former ministers who came to see and be seen included Shaul Mofaz, Ze'ev Boim and Avi Dichter. The present government was represented by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. There were also quite a few lawyers present including the immaculately groomed Zion Amir, for whom this was a first time experience. From the sphere of communications, public relations and advertising there were Yafit Greenberg (Gimmel Yafit), Ran Rahav and Moti Morel. The ability to see beyond the obvious appears to be a family trait. Jerusalem's Rabbanit Bruria Ifergan Zvuluni has no less illustrious a following than does Ifergan.
EPIPHANY IS probably not the politically correct word to use in relation to Zaka founder Yehuda Meshi Zahav, but it can be said that Monday, July 6, was the 20th anniversary of his having seen the light. Up until that time, he was the chief operations officer of the Eda Haredit, organizing demonstrations against Sabbath violations, post mortems and excavations in places where there might be remains of Jews that were much more violent and effective than those seen in Jerusalem in recent weeks. Meshi Zahav also spray painted Theodor Herzl's tomb. For these and other exploits he was arrested no less than 34 times.
Anything that smacked of Zionism was anathema until the fateful day 20 years ago of a terrorist attack against Bus 405 make its way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Near Kiryat Ye'arim, the terrorist approached the driver, grabbed the steering wheel and turned it with all his strength, forcing the bus off the road and making it fall 40 meters into a ravine. The bus landed upside down and burst into flames. Sixteen people were killed and 30 wounded.
Boys from a nearby yeshiva were among the first to mount a rescue operation. Word spread quickly and ambulances, security forces, people who wanted to help and those who came only out of curiosity raced to the area. Meshi Zahav was among those who sped to help, and with all the best intentions may have caused more harm the good by not waiting for stretchers, back braces or neck braces and dragging people who were hurt away from the wreckage.
He suddenly realized that regardless of their differences, all the Jews who live here share a common fate, and that whether the haredi community likes it or not, the Zionist enterprise is here to stay. Realizing that the need for a faster response than Magen David Adom was able to give, Meshi Zahav founded Zaka, a motorcycle corps of paramedics who can maneuver narrow roads and who are dedicated to collecting all human remains following a terrorist attack or a fatal road accident.
For Meshi Zahav there was the closing of a circle when he was one of the beacon lighters at the Independence Day festivities in 2003. The ceremony was held on Mount Herzl not far from the grave of the Zionist visionary whose tomb he had once spray painted. Not only that, but when Ariel Sharon formed Kadima, he invited Meshi Zahav to join him. For Meshi Zahav, that was going just a little bit too far. Although he mingles frequently with members of the secular community, he still clings to some of his old beliefs and has been heard to condemn the initiative of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, whose opening of a parking lot on Shabbat has simultaneously opened a Pandora's box.
REFUSAL BY the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is not exactly a new development, but dates back to the UN resolution that called for the partition of Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Arabs rejected the resolution, and the Palestinians have yet to recognize the State of Israel, Minister for Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor told the Foreign Press Association last week. In discussing "the logic of dividing a land which two peoples believe are entirely theirs," he referred to the UN resolution. "If what is stated in the resolution is not the end of the game," he said,"There is no end to the game."
Meridor also warned that "if Iran gets nuclear, it could bring about the collapse of the nonproliferation treaty," because Libya, Syria and other countries in the region are interested in developing nuclear energy, and that quest for nuclear power "may mushroom all over the Middle East."
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