'MY HEART was with France," Henri Etoundii Essomba, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps and Ambassador of Cameroon, admitted on Monday at the Vin d'Honneur for new envoys Nicholas Zafiropoulos of Greece, Vadim Zverkov of Kazakhstan and Rafael Veintimilla of Ecuador. Essomba was one of many mourners for France's loss in the World Cup final. He quoted a BBC report on the crucial game, in which the sportscaster characterized Zinedine Zidane, whose last game for France ended with the notorious head-butting of Italy's Marco Materazzi, as having gone "From hero to zero."
The sentence stayed with Essomba, who repeated it over and over. No doubt Israel's Francophiles and French expatriates will still be commiserating with each other tonight when they meet on the lawns of French Ambassador Gerard Araud at the French Independence Day reception.
ALTHOUGH THERE was far greater media representation than usual when Zafiropoulos - the first of the three new ambassadors who presented their credentials on Monday to President Moshe Katsav - drove into the grounds of Beit Hanassi, the grand reception was not for him or his colleagues. The scandal emanating from and hovering over Beit Hanassi has been titillating the media and the general public since Saturday night, and is gaining momentum from day to day.
Nevertheless, the three ambassadors played along as if there were nothing untoward. Each presented his credentials, drank a toast with the president, talked about bilateral relations and the escalation of violence in the area. Peace was on everyone's mind. Veintimilla, who was the last of the three, said "Shalom" as he raised his glass.
Zverkov, who was second, wrote in the presidential guest book: "Peace, happiness and well-being to the people of Israel.
Zafiropoulos, who took a wider perspective, wrote: "With high hopes for a lasting peace for Israel and its neighbors."
Ambassadors present their credentials in chronological order - according to the date on which they arrive in Israel. Considering that of the three countries, Greece has the longest history with the people and the land of Israel - stretching back centuries, with relics of the ancient Greeks still visible in the Holy Land and the national colors of both countries being identical - it was appropriate in more ways than one for Zafiropoulos to be the first to meet with the president.
FEW PEOPLE balk at being promoted - even when it's in error, and in name only. Thus, when public relations man Moshe Dayan sent a letter to Eitan Cabel, the minister responsible for the Israel Broadcasting Authority, and mistakenly addressed him as the Communications Minister, there was no denial or correction from Cabel's office.
CABEL'S NAME has been linked indirectly to the Beit Hanassi sex and extortion scandal via a Yediot Aharonot report stating that Beit Hanassi Director-General Moshe Goral arranged a job interview with Cabel for the former Beit Hanassi employee (the woman who allegedly accused Katsav of sexual harassment) in the eye of the storm.
What influence the turn of events will have on her career remains to be seen. According to Yediot, she went to Cabel's office for her job interview just over a week ago.
Meanwhile, Katsav is due to leave on July 22 for a series of state visits to Latin American countries.
A Beit Hanassi staff member, when asked in Hebrew for how many days (kama yamim) the president would be away, deliberately chose to mishear and retorted: "Kama shanim (How many years)? It hasn't been decided yet."
Actually, Katsav will be away for eight days, during which time the scandal may die a natural death, or - according to the rumor mill - swell into a series of mind-boggling revelations.
FOR DECADES, Betty Shiloah, the New York-born widow of Reuven Shiloah, the founder of the Mossad, was a highly visible figure in Jerusalem. She worked on cultural exchange programs in conjunction with the Foreign Ministry, helped to establish shelters for battered women and engaged in a variety of programs and projects for the benefit of the underprivileged. A few years ago, she disappeared from the public eye. But she was spied last Friday in the company of Meira Gera, the former director of the America Israel Cultural Foundation, at the lunch-time recital at the Israel Opera. Had Reuven Shiloah not died at the relatively early age of 50, the couple would this year have celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
Shiloah conceived what became the Mossad, even before the establishment of the state. Although it was approved by David Ben-Gurion, it did not become operational until 1951. It was headed by Shiloah for a year and then taken over by Isser Harel, who was often erroneously credited with being its founder. Five years after taking up his appointment with the Mossad, Harel was made chief of Israel's overall secret services.
ONE LAST reference to the Mossad: Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy has been doing a lot of public speaking lately, both in English and in Hebrew, to promote his book, Man in the Shadows. On Tuesday, he spoke to members of the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association.
This time it was almost like speaking to extended family. He was among fellow British expatriates, including people with whom he had gone to school in London - something he found slightly disturbing, because they were too familiar with his background. Halevy confessed to having a lifelong identity crisis. In 1946, after the Irgun hung two British sergeants in Netanya, he was beaten up at school. When he returned home bruised and bloodied, his father said the family must go to Palestine. It took two years for that to happen. The family arrived in April, 1948. They had relatives in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem was under siege, and so the Jewish Agency sent them to Netanya. When the young Efraim went to school, he was set upon by his classmates - who though he was British - and again returned home bruised and bloodied. Recalling these events, Halevy said that he was averse to microphones "for reasons you might understand."
However, he realized that on this occasion he had no option, and stood behind the microphone for the best part of an hour.
FEWER GUESTS than usual were invited to the residence of US Ambassador Richard Jones and his wife, Joan, to celebrate American Independence Day on July 4 this year. Because there was less of a crush and better organization of food stalls, it was much easier than in the past for people to move around and meet and greet each other. Although there were fewer people - but a huge number nonetheless - there seemed to be more red, white and blue balloons. There were festoons of balloons all over the place and the mega-sized American flag, which served as a backdrop to the stage on which was seated the official party - including President Moshe Katsav, his wife, Gila, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the ambassador and his wife, and American Public Affairs Counselor Helena Finn - was entirely fashioned from balloons.
The American and Israeli anthems were performed by Israel's young international singing star Liel Kolet, who was occasionally off key and who made them sound more like torch songs than anthems - but, hey, it was a different kind of presentation.
In his introductory remarks, Jones made reference to the challenges to freedom that are being faced by Americans and Israelis alike, and to the struggle for freedom and justice which have been part and parcel of the histories of the people of both countries. He concluded his address by toasting the "defenders of democracy and freedom everywhere."
The official proceedings, which had originally been timed to start at 9:30 p.m., were brought forward to 8:30, which meant that latecomers missed out on the speeches, but not on the food.
Jones mingled freely with his guests after the Katsavs and Olmert had left, and watched the fireworks display at the conclusion of the evening with youthful delight. He had come prepared for the sight, and removed a camera from his pocket to photograph the most spectacular bursts of color against the night sky.
USUALLY ONE doesn't give presents on one's birthday, one receives them. But when Yiddishpiel founder Shmuel Atzmon returned to his native Bilgoraj in Poland to celebrate his 77th birthday, he took with him a shofar that he had purchased in Tel Aviv to present to Polish parliamentarian Janusz Palikot. The gift was in appreciation for what Palikot has done to preserve the memory of Nobel Prize laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer and to revive the Jewish cultural heritage in the place that featured so prominently in Bashevis Singer's writings.
Palikot has successfully lobbied for the construction of a heritage house to be built in the Bilgoraj market square, and through its programs and projects to symbolize the symbiosis of Polish-Jewish culture. Together with the Yiddishpiel troupe, Friends of Yiddishpiel, family and colleagues, Atzmon traveled to and performed in Zamosc, Krakow and Bilgoraj.
Among the guests were the diva of the Israeli stage, Orna Porat, and Israel's ambassador to Poland, David Peleg, who specially came from Warsaw. Prior to World War II, more than half of Bilgoraj's population was Jewish. Today there are few Jews among Balgoraj's 28,000 residents.
"I HOPE we did the right thing" said Hillel Cherni, the representative of the owners of the Holyland Hotel in Jerusalem, at the rededication of the Second Temple Model in the valley leading to the entrance to the Shrine of the Book. Built at the initiative of Holyland owner Hans Kroch in memory of his son, Jacob, who fell in Israel's War of Independence, the model - which was initially inaugurated in 1966 - attracted tens of thousands of visitors over the years. When the owners decided to redevelop the property, Cherni went in search of a new location. When he broached the possibility to Israel Museum director James Snyder, the idea caught on like wildfire. Itzhak Molcho, chairman of the museum's board of directors, marveled at how wonderfully the reconstructed model harmonized with the terrain, and declared that it looked as if it were a homogeneous unit with the Shrine of the Book. Molcho remarked on civilizations that had disappeared because people distanced themselves from their cultural heritage. "We have made it possible for our youth to almost touch their roots," he said.
The dedication ceremony began with the blowing of three enormous curved shofars, which Science Culture and Sports Minister Ophir Paz-Pines said "took us back some 200 years in time."
Paz-Pines said that the model of the Second Temple had come to its natural home, where it enhances the museum. Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog described the combination of the Second Temple Model and the Shrine of the Book as "an incredible project," and said that when he looked at the model, he finally understood why he, a Levite, washes the hands of the priests (kohanim) on Shabbat - "because that's what the Levites did in the Temple."
The relocation of the model was made possible by the Dorot Foundation, several of whose representatives were in attendance.
THERE ARE wedding gifts and there are wedding gifts. Guests usually give the bride and groom household utensils and appliances or a check. The groom's family may often give the bride a pair of very expensive silver candlesticks. The bride's family, if they can afford it, may provide the bride and groom with their first home, or possibly a new car. The bride and groom usually give one another wedding rings, and the groom forks out for the honeymoon, which can be quite costly if it's a round-the-world trip. But all of the above combined could not compare with the gift that Canadian businessman Dr. Michael Dan gave to his bride, Amira, as soon as they emerged from beneath the wedding canopy. He gave her a $2 million gift that would link her name in perpetuity with the University of Haifa, and would be far-reaching in its consequences, as it would provide fellowships for needy doctoral students. The money has been deposited in an endowment fund. The bride, who happens to be a doctoral student at York University, Toronto, was surprised and delighted, declaring that it was the most beautiful and meaningful gift that her new husband could have given her. In announcing the gift, the groom said that it would "generate a real change in the lives of brilliant doctoral students," enabling them to fulfill their dreams and devote themselves to research, which in turn would advance their areas of specialization in the academic world.
Canadian lawyer Peter Biro, who is a governor of the University of Haifa and president of the Canadian Friends of Haifa University, was instrumental in planting the idea of the endowment fund and orchestrating its logistics. The groom was excited at the possibility of giving his bride such an unusual gift, but insisted that it be kept a secret until after the wedding ceremony. Other than Biro and Dan, only two people were in the know: the Haifa University President and Vice President Professors Aaron Ben-Ze'ev and Ada Spitzer, who traveled to Toronto to present the bride with a hand-printed parchment scroll testifying to the "extraordinary, poignant, original, generous gift."
Michael and Amira Dan will be visiting Haifa at least once a year for the rest of their lives, unless they happen to pick up and come on aliya.
FIVE YOUNG journalists are currently completing an intensive 10-day training course with Radio France International, in the framework of a European Union media project that comes within the realm of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. The five are coexisting with 25 of their peers from Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Tunisia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey as part of an international team operating in real situations. The best of their reports will be broadcast on Radio France International and Radio Monte Carlo Middle East.
Prior to leaving Israel, the group - comprising Avital Tomer of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Ravit Bachman of the College of Management,; Ya'ara Marchiano of Galgalatz Radio; Christine Khalil of the Jezreel Valley Academic College; and Ariel Berkovich of Army Radio - was treated to a reception hosted by the French Embassy at the Tel Aviv Marina. The five were winners of a competition based on radio reports about the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership - also known as the Barcelona Process - that inter alia encourages dialogue among different populations in the Euro-Mediterranean area.