INITIALLY IT seemed that after all the careful preparations for the celebration of his country's national day, Czech Ambassador Michael Zantovsky might have to wing it alone without the presence of a representative of the Israel government.
The reason: the minister who was scheduled to come was attending the Knesset session at which it would be determined whether the Knesset approved Avigdor Lieberman as a cabinet minister.
Zantovsky's reception at the Czech residence in Herzliya Pituah began at 6.30 p.m. and the minister was supposed to show up at around 7 p.m.
A quick telephone check by Nitza Raz from the Foreign Ministry's Protocol Office indicated that he was not going to be on time, and since the vote had not been taken, there was little likelihood that he would come at all.
However, he was persuaded that better late than never and Zantovsky announced to his guests that the minister would arrive at 8 p.m. To everyone's surprise, Environment Minister Gideon Ezra came at 7.30 p.m., at which point Zantovsky announced that good deeds do not go unpunished and that Ezra would now have to listen to him speak in Hebrew.
Unlike some of his colleagues at similar events, Zantovsky did not confine himself to a sentence of greeting. His whole speech was in Hebrew, delivered fluently at first, but haltingly towards the end, at which time he switched to English.
Time moves so rapidly and things change so quickly in Israel he said, that he could not believe that he was more than halfway through his tour of duty.
This was the third time he was hosting a national day celebration, and on each occasion the weather had been different. Referring to the recent downpour, he observed that as this is the period when Jews pray for rain, it was a sign that people should be careful about what they pray for.
In more serious vein he said that the Czechs pray for less religious fanaticism and for greater tolerance, and noted the imbalance between those who kill in the name of religion and their victims. The Czech Republic prays for a just and lasting peace within secure borders for both Israelis and Palestinians he said, adding that the Czech Republic will make whatever contribution it can towards the realization of that goal.
After remarking dryly that he'd had a busy day, Ezra said that Israel could not forget what the Czechs had done for her in her infancy, and described the Czech Republic "as one of Israel's closest friends not just in the EU but in the entire world."
Israel will never forget, he said, that first visit outside of his country made by then President Vaclav Havel, was to Israel. Ezra also noted that more than 500 Israeli companies operate in the Czech Republic.
Zantovsky and his wife Jana have two small and delightful young children, David and Rebecca, who were given a free run of the garden and the living room and charmed guests to the extent that no-one really noticed the time.
AT THE ceremony honoring US billionaire philanthropist Sheldon Adelson and his wife Dr. Miriam Adelson's $25-million dollar gift to Yad Vashem - the largest ever individual gift to an Israeli Institution, Avner Shalev - chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate told a poignant story of Adelson's first visit to Israel.
Adelson grew up in a very Zionist household, where his father, a poor Lithuanian immigrant to the United States always dreamt of coming to the land of Israel, but died without ever realizing the dream. Sheldon Adelson and his father wore the same size shoes, and thus when the son made his first visit to Israel, he wore his father's shoes so as to symbolically fulfill his father's dream.
A frequent visitor and long time donor to Yad Vashem, Adelson said: "Every time I come to Yad Vashem, I am awed and humbled."
What impressed him most was the children's memorial which he described as "the most moving structure of remembrance that anyone can imagine." Adelson was surprised to discover that the project had been sitting on the shelf for a long time because no-one wanted to sponsor it.
When he learned that the person who had finally taken up the challenge was Abraham Spiegel, chairman of the Columbia Savings and Loan Bank in California, he went to see him to thank him for what he had done. Spiegel asked him how he felt about Yad Vashem, and whether he would be willing to help. Adelson, who is the casino king of America was then in a computer related business, and together with his partners provided a huge amount of computer equipment to computerize all the data in the Hall of Names.
"Yad Vashem at that time didn't even have a word processor," he recalled. Adelson subsequently brought 126 Congressmen and Senators from the US to Yad Vashem and took them through the children's memorial. "I've never seen one of them walk out with a dry eye."
RECOGNISING THE presence at the ceremony of Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and MK Natan Sharansky, Adelson referred to them as "two of the greatest humanitarians who have ever walked the face of this earth." He recalled that he had once introduced Wiesel at a function, and read in the biographical notes about him that Wiesel had written forty books. "That's more than I've read in my whole life," Adelson quipped. Wiesel whose name has been widely mentioned as a possible candidate for the presidency of the State of Israel had publicly declared at Yad Vashem the previous day that he had no desire to be president, because he wanted the freedom to say whatever he wanted to say, and the time to continue writing and teaching. At the ceremony honoring the Adelsons Wiesel, speaking in the names of non-Israelis said: "Although we don't live in Jerusalem, Jerusalem lives in us. It's true we don't live in Israel, but we would not be able to live without Israel."
IN A movingly poignant address, Miri Adelson, the daughter of Polish immigrant parents who lost most of their nearest and dearest in the Holocaust, said that even though she had grown up in the sunshine of Israel, her youth was filled with the shadow of the Holocaust. Born in Tel Aviv and raised in Haifa, she developed a particular Holocaust awareness during the Eichmann trial and read enormous amounts of Holocaust literature. A medical practitioner by profession, she always took extra special care of those patients who had numbers on their arms. It was important she said, not only to remind people of what could happen again, but to do everything possible to prevent it from happening again. When she finished speaking Sara and Binyamin Netanyahu, close personal friends, rose from their seats and walked over to her and hugged her. The Likud chairman and opposition leader, who was also among the speakers, was there both in an official and personal capacity as were Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Education Minister Yuli Tamir.
DUE TO the presence of the prime minister, a former minister and the education minister, there was extremely heavy security at Yad Vashem, which was closed to visitors on Friday. Invitees had to go through a series of checks before being permitted to enter, and even then were assigned to a specific underground parking area. Among the early arrivals were former justice minister Yaakov Neeman and Rabbi Emanuel Quint of the OU Center, who were driven in by their respective blonde-haired wives Hadassa Ne'eman and Rena Quint.
"We have the nicest chauffeurs in the world," remarked Quint to Ne'eman. To which the latter retorted, "Yes, but the most expensive."
WHEN KOREAN Ambassador Shin Kak-Soo became aware that celebrated Korean pianist Yeol Eum Sohn, the winner of the third prize in the 11th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition was returning to Israel for a recital with the IPO at the Mann Auditorium, he invited her to also do something patriotic and to give an additional recital at the Korean residence in Rishpon, which she is doing Wednesday night. On a different cultural level, Brazilian Ambassador Sergio Moreira Lima, has chosen the same date, November 1, for the launch of his book, A Time for Change, that will give readers a better perspective of Brazil and its relations with Israel.
The introduction to the book was written by Shimon Peres, who flew to London on Tuesday and will probably not be back in time to attend the launch at the Horace Richter Gallery in Jaffa. On the same date in Jerusalem the original handwritten text of Menachem Begin's speech given on the lawns of the White House at the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt in March, 1979, will be presented to the Begin Heritage Center by brothers Hart and Mark Hasten from Indianapolis. The document has gone through many hands and the Hasten brothers, staunch supporters of the Begin Heritage Center decided that its rightful place was in the Begin archives.
Also on November 1, Malcolm Hedding, executive director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, will host a solidarity reception in honor of the Pentecostal European Fellowship and its chairman, Ingolf Ellsel. The date also marks the start of official commemorations of the assassinations of two important figures at opposite ends of the political spectrum, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin who was assassinated in Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995 and Kach founder Rabbi Meir Kahane who was assassinated in New York on November 5, 1990.
The Rabin commemoration ceremony at Beit Hanassi is mired in controversy, with threatened boycotts by several members of Knesset. In connection with the numerous memorial events for the slain prime minister, the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv will display banners and slogans produced by students of Shenkar College as an educational tool tol prompt discussions by young people at workshops taking place in the Rabin Center. By strange coincidence, Rabin's assassin Yigal Amir, was last week permitted his first conjugal relationship with his wife Larissa since his incarceration. This too, will be discussed in the Rabin Center workshops.
MORE than 500 people from Israel's upper income echelon congregated in the lobby of Tel Aviv's impressive Museum Tower last Thursday to celebrate the re-location of the prominent and veteran law firm Shiboleth, Yisraeli Roberts, Zisman and Co., and Moshe H. Neeman, Ben Artzi and Co. Advocates and Notaries, most of whose partners and associates are members of both the New York and Israel Bar Associations. The firm also has offices in New York and Shanghai. Many of those present are on the firm's client list, but there were also quite a number of people who are personal friends of the various partners. Among those present was Israel's most social butterfly Vice Premier Shimon Peres, whose popularity is such that he seems to be the most ubiquitous person on Israel's social scene. He's almost everywhere, and despite his age, seldom looks tired and spends hour upon hour standing at receptions where he is a living magnet for other guests. Other well known faces belonged to Israel's wealthiest woman, Shari Arison and her husband Ofer Glazer, Shlomo Nechama, Liora Ofer, Amnon Dik, Ofra Strauss, Zohar Zissappel, Uzi Baram, Roni Milo, Ron Huldai, and numerous others who count as Israeli high society.
THE OLD adage about a friend in need being a friend indeed proved to be true last Saturday night when restaurateurs Reena and Vinod Pushkarna sent all the people who had reservations at their Tandoori Restaurant in Herzliya Pituah to another of their restaurants in Tel Aviv. The reason for the move was simple.
Their good friends, Rajul and Amish Mehta had arranged to have a party in their home on Saturday night. Their larger parties are usually held on the spacious porch and around the pool. But when the weather forecast was for rainstorms, they realized that because not all their guests could be accommodated inside the house that they would have to find another location.
The Pushkarnas were only too happy to help out and made all the ground floor space in the restaurant available for dancing, while the upper level at the top of the two curved staircases offered laden buffets of palate pleasing strictly vegetarian Indian cuisine. As it happened, it didn't rain that night, but the Mehtas who had made last minute contact with all their guests, would rather have been sure than sorry. One of the most energetic and free spirited figures on the dance floor was US Ambassador Richard Jones, who once dinner was served, shared a table with Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Indian Ambassador Arun Kumar Singh. One of these days, a miracle might happen and guests invited to the same events as Peres will have the courtesy to allow him to finish his meal. Peres, who stayed for an hour, was courted throughout by people who wanted to shake his hand, exchange a few words or pose for photos with him. Three days after the party, Rajul Mehta and her 14 year old daughter Ria took off for Japan where Ria competed in the Tokyo Karate Championships.
EMOTIONALLY OVERCOME at the Fashion Awards presentations where she received a Life Achievement Award, a weeping Leah Gottlieb could barely believe after some of the humiliating snubs that she received over the past year or two that this was happening to her. Education Minister Yuli Tamir, who presented her with the award told her: "This is just a fraction of the honor due to you for bringing Israel's beauty and creativity to the attention of the world."
Gottlieb, who in her late 80s started a new business venture, could only wipe the tears from her eyes. Not a word escaped her mouth. She got a standing ovation from members of the industry, many of whom who were not yet born when she and her late husband launched Gottex, which she relinquished nearly a decade ago to Lev Leviev. These days she's designing swimwear under her own signature brand name.
LIKE MOST parents who observe that their children are talented in some direction, the great Yiddish writer Melech Ravitch noticed that his son Yosl was a gifted artist, and kept the first exercise book in which the little boy had done his earliest drawings.
The little boy lived in several countries between childhood and adult life, and it would not have been unusual for the book of drawings to disappear. But it didn't. It remained preserved in his family and inspired Yosl, now in his mid eighties, to turn these childhood drawings into oil paintings. Yosl, is of course the famous artist Yosl Bergner.
An exhibition of his recaptured childhood images opened last week at the Dan Gallery in Tel Aviv, and as his openings have always done, attracted quite a crowd including Tesse and Moshe Lang, friends from Melbourne, where he spent his youth; Prof. Gideon Efrat, and representatives in one way or another of the world of painting, music, theater and literature - in short a meeting of the arts.
Among them were Noa Eshkol, Danny Kerman, Edith Astruc, Carmela Rubin, Aviva Banai, Gabi Gilboa, Diana Lerner; Ida and Aharon Meged, Hanoch Bartov, Boaz Evron, Ronnie Ninio, Shlomo Vitkin, Avner Katz, Meir Pishchadze, Yehuda Atlas, Dory Parnes, Avraham Yavin, and Judge Michal Rubinstein, and of course Yosl Bergner's wife Audrey, who recently celebrated the launch of the Hebrew translation of her book of Tel Aviv stories, their daughter Hinda and twin teenage granddaughters, Gabi and Alex.
LAST THURSDAY evening the Springer auditorium of the Israel Museum was the site of the launching of a unique book on Jerusalem by Artist Ya'akov Boussidan. Jerusalem according to legend has 70 faces, but it has many more names. Boussidan's book Jerusalem - Names in Praise features 391 names of the city accompanied by full source citations, amazing calligraphy and breath-taking illustrations. Failure is an orphan and success has many fathers.
In this case, Boussidan was joined in the launch by co-sponsors Jerusalem Beit Morasha, the International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential and the Israel Museum which in 1990 had singled out Boussidan for its spoke of Boussidan's present work as connected expressions of love for the city, drawing, and the Hebrew letter. Beit Morasha rector Prof. Benjamin Ish-Shalom, praised both Boussidan's artistic and scholarly contribution as an important gift to the Jewish people.
On a more emotional note, ICELP founder Prof. Reuven Feuerstein described how Ya'akov Boussidan had come to him at the age of 14 while holding a drawing completed while the artist was a pupil in Aliyat Hanoar soon after arriving as a bewildered young immigrant from Egypt. Described by Boussidan as the "spiritual father" of his current work, Feuerstein referred to Boussidan's latest project as "belonging to every person in Israel", while bringing the names of Jerusalem to an "expression" that is both "alive and artistic." Noted architect and author David Kroyanker spoke of Boussidan's "great cultural contribution to the city." Prof. Daniel Sperber described the work as a fusion of art, letters and language while noted poetess, Hava Pinchas-Cohen, saw Boussidan's book as "timeless."
EVEN THOUGH the current Yiddishpiel production, Yiddishe Gescheften.com, has been playing around the country for a whole month, the so-called premiere at ZOA House in Tel Aviv last week, was a complete sell-out. Contrary to expectations, the popularity of Yiddish Theater is soaring, and after appearing together in several productions, lead actors Yaacov Bodo and Gadi Yagil are so comfortable with each other that the dialogue sounds almost like natural conversation. Although they raised a lot of laughs, Annabella, the Romanian-born prize winning actress, who has been with Yiddishpiel since 1992, absolutely stole the show with her spoof on a fashion model. Annabella also makes frequent appearances on the Hebrew stage.
POPULARITY POLLS indicate that billionaire philanthropist Arkady Gaidamak would do very well for himself if he decided to go into politics. Gaidamak has thus far issued denials about any intentions in this direction, but is being pressed to apply his business acumen to municipal affairs, and according to a report in the Jerusalem weekly Yerushalayim is testing the waters to see what his chances would be if he ran for mayor. He's eligible because he owns a luxury home in the capital. One thing that he has in common with present incumbent Uri Lupolianski is that he wants Yigal Amedi, currently a deputy mayor, despite his poor showing at the polls, to be his right-hand man. Gaidamak whose across-the-board philanthropy is virtually limitless, is admired not only by Israelis. The Palestinian Al Bawaba blog has published a highly positive feature about him on the Internet.