Grapevine: Interesting times for Shapiro

Zalman Shoval is arguably the most appropriate person in Israel to host a welcome dinner for US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro.

Dan Shapiro (photo credit: Courtesy of US embassy Israel)
Dan Shapiro
(photo credit: Courtesy of US embassy Israel)
ZALMAN SHOVAL, who has twice served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States and who has also served as president of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce, is arguably the most appropriate person in Israel to host a welcome dinner for US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro who arrived in Israel on July 21 and presented his credentials on August 3.
Shoval and his wife Kenna hosted Shapiro and his wife Julie at a dinner in their home on Monday. Just to add to the appropriateness of the affair, the Shovals live in Sharett Street, named for Israel’s first foreign minister and second prime minister Moshe Sharett, who among other things was a signatory to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, and before that had been a most active figure in mobilizing support for the United Nations’s November 1947 resolution on the partition of Palestine. Given the timing of the event honoring Shapiro, few things could have had more interesting historical coincidence and significance. This was not the first time Shoval had welcomed Shapiro. On September 12, the IACC hosted a reception and concert in his honor at the Tel Aviv Museum. The US Ambassador is traditionally the honorary chairman of the Chamber.
Shoval noted that this time some of his guests, such as Yitzhak Molcho and Stanley Fischer, had come almost directly from New York where they had been attending the United Nations General Assembly. For the sake of the very few guests who did not understand Hebrew, Shoval spoke in English while Shapiro responded in Hebrew. Shoval said that Shapiro had hit the ground running, becoming intensely involved soon after his arrival in the rescue operation at the Israel Embassy in Cairo. Without the involvement of the Americans, said Shoval, the incident could have had a terrible ending. Turning to events in New York in recent days, Shoval said that there had been an attempt not only to delegitimize Israel, but to reduce the stature of the United States in the world in general and in the Middle East in particular.
In Shoval’s perception this makes the strategic relationship between Israel and the US more important than ever. In toasting Shapiro’s future success, Shoval also wished all his guests a happy New Year.
Since his arrival in Israel, the remark that Shapiro has heard more often than others is that he has come at a very interesting time. He wondered whether anybody could remember a time when it was boring. Like his predecessors in office, Shapiro spoke of the historic strong ties between the governments and peoples of the US and Israel.
"Sometimes long time friendships get a little rough around the edges,” he said, which was why President Barack Obama had sent him to Israel, charging him with the responsibility of strengthening and deepening the relationship. In toasting Israel, which he described as “our best friend in the region and one of the best in the world,” Shapiro wished everyone present a happy New Year full of health, wealth, success, security and progress towards peace.
■ GOSSIP WRITERS, the Hebrew media and several British publications are speculating as to whether there is a romance between powerful businesswoman Ofra Strauss and Quartet envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair. The two are long-time friends and are frequently seen in each other’s company. In his capacity as Quartet envoy, Blair has paid more than 70 visits to Israel, and his car has been seen in the vicinity of Strauss’s home on several occasions.
The rumors have been vigorously denied by Strauss’s spokesman Ran Rahav, but the twice-divorced Strauss continues to be seen with Blair, thus provoking further speculation.
■ NOT MANY these days personally remember Gershon Agron, the founding editor of The Jerusalem Post, or, as it was known in his time, The Palestine Post. Among those who have actually met Agron is veteran journalist Diana Lerner, who recalled their first meeting at the launch party for her book, Ageless in Tel Aviv, last Friday. Lerner, who will celebrate her 90th birthday in February, recalled that many of her great adventures and best stories derived from her lack of a sense of direction.
Her first visit to Tel Aviv was in 1947. At one point she went for a visit to Jerusalem, not only for the spiritual and emotional reasons that a rabbi’s daughter would want to wander through the Holy City, but also because she had regards for someone who worked at The Palestine Post. In those days there were few telephones in the country and making the long journey by bus was often preferable to enduring the frustrations in trying to make telephone contact.
In trying to track down her quarry, whose surname was similar to that of Agron’s, Lerner knocked on the door of the wrong office only to discover that she was delivering her message to the editor-in-chief, rather than the person for whom the regards were intended. He set her straight, but also asked her what she was doing and what she wanted to do. Without thinking, she said she wanted to work at a newspaper – which she eventually did before becoming a freelancer and writing for numerous publications in Israel and abroad.
Always curious and intrepid, Lerner managed to work her way into press conferences with leading politicians and celebrities from all walks of life, and often interviewed them one-on-one. She was never shy, and once accompanied the writer of this column to an event to which the writer had been invited, but Lerner had not. When the columnist expressed some reservations about taking her, Lerner said airily: “Don’t worry, they’ll be happy to see me.” And indeed they were; she was the center of attention.
Almost everyone knew her and many people expressed delight that she had come. Urged by family members who for years had been captivated by her stories, Lerner wrote something in the nature of an autobiography, I Must Have Come out of an Eggplant, which was published in 2006. It proved so popular that when Tel Aviv celebrated its centenary, she felt compelled to publish another memoir, My Tel Aviv.
Born in Hungary and raised in New York, , she knows Tel Aviv as intimately as she does the Big Apple. It is impossible to walk down the street with her in Tel Aviv without being stopped by people of all ages and backgrounds who know her.
What prompted her to write her latest book was that so many people who were advancing in age were complaining of illness, incapacity and various other miseries. In Lerner’s case it was almost but not quite the opposite. She fell over several times and was terrified at the thought of having to use a cane or a walker.

Her orthopedist told her to just get up and walk, and conveyed such confidence in her ability to do so – that she did. Then a couple of years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer and was in a very serious condition. Her doctor cut it out without subjecting her to radiation or chemotherapy. Today, she is healthy, walks unaided and has an amazing memory.
Several of her colleagues, some of whom are still working journalists, attended the launch, among them Nurit Bat Yaar, Batsheva Tzur Etz-zioni, Phyllis Glazer, Tzivia Cohen, Renee Singer and Pnina Peeri, as well as many long-time friends including Hannah Ronen, who for many years was the secretary of the Tel Aviv Journalists Association at Beit Sokolov, and Murray Greenfield, founder of Gefen Publishing, who had refused to publish her first book and who, though aware that she was writing Ageless in Tel Aviv, did not offer to publish it. He wanted to maintain their friendship, he explained.