WHILE PRESIDENT Shimon Peres was meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and discussing the evils of terrorism and the casualties of war on Monday night, Beit Hanassi director-general Efrat Duvdevani was experiencing a more pleasurable pain - the kind caused by a baby as it makes its way from the womb to the world. Duvdevani gave birth to a 3.75 kg. daughter, a factor that temporarily overrode security concerns at Beit Hanassi.
n ON THE following morning, Peres greeted Czech Foreign Minister Karl Schwarzenberg, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferraro-Waldner, who had all been extremely busy with meetings the previous day. When Peres asked delegation leader Schwarzenberg whether he had at least had a good night's sleep, the latter replied in the affirmative, but said it was too short. Schwarzenberg, who accompanied Austrian President Heinz Fischer when the latter paid a state visit to Israel in December, said that he had not imagined at that time that he would meet with Peres twice within the space of a month, though he would have preferred to have another reason for the second meeting. He also used the occasion to invite Peres to pay a state visit to the Czech Republic during the period in which his country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. Bildt was included in the delegation because Sweden is next in line for the presidency. He was accompanied by Robert Ryberg, a former Swedish ambassador to Israel, who was able to pick up on asides by the Israelis because he speaks fluent Hebrew.
n JUST AS Schwarzenberg did not expect to see Peres again so soon, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu probably did not expect to meet up with Sarkozy so soon after his own recent visit to Paris. In Paris, Sarkozy and Netanyahu recalled a meeting in Washington when Sarkozy was Finance Minister of France, Netanyahu, Finance Minister of Israel and Gordon Brown, Finance Minister of England. The three had pledged to meet again when each was head of his country. Sarkozy made it to the presidency, Gordon Brown is Prime Minister, and Netanyahu is quite far ahead in the polls for elections to the 18th Knesset. So there's still a possibility that the three musketeers will meet again.
n WALKING HISTORY would probably be the most appropriate description of the launch by Suzy Eban of her book A Sense of Purpose. Almost everyone gathered in the living room of her gracious Herzliya Pituah home was either personally involved in the creation and development of the State or was the spouse or offspring of someone in this category. Several of the people present had already received the book some weeks earlier, and told her enthusiastically that although they had been under the impression that they knew the history of the country well, they had learned many things from the book that they had not known before. That included her son, Prof. Eli Eban, former chief clarinetist with the Israel Radio Orchestra, who later joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the invitation of Zubin Mehta and is currently Professor of Music at the Jacobs School of Music, University of Indiana, and principal clarinetist with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. Suzy Eban's younger sister Aura Herzog gleaned information about the family's life in Egypt that she had either forgotten or never known, and similarly, there were revelations for her own son, government minister Isaac Herzog. Ruth Dayan, who at 90-plus remains straight-backed and still drives herself all over the country, spent most of the evening on her feet, chatting to many friends and acquaintances. The ever beautiful Esther Rubin, who is slightly older, but confined to a wheelchair, does not let this fact prevent her from socializing from one end of Israel to the other. She's always ready for a party and arrived with Lord and Lady Weidenfeld. Raya Jaglom, the eternal fashion plate who always looks as if she just stepped out of Vogue, will be 90 in three months, but looks nowhere near. Others present included Danny and Phyllis Bloch, Dorothy and David Harman, Adina Gottesman, Moshe and Muriel Arens, Carole and Ronnie Slater - who used to be the Ebans' neighbors but have long been back in their native Canada - Herzliya Mayor Yael German, publisher Peter Halban, Eitan Bentsur, former director general at the Foreign Ministry and his wife Naomi Bentsur, Stef Wertheimer, Irish Ambassador Michael Forbes and shopping mall magnate David Azrieli and his wife Stephanie. Michal Herzog arrived some time after her husband with two of their three sons. The eldest is in the army, which makes him the third generation in the Herzog family to serve in the IDF. Eli Eban pronounced himself to be thrilled with the book. Isaac Herzog was equally thrilled and made sure to mention his late uncle Abba Eban, "who served our country with such distinction." German expressed the pride of Herzliya in having Suzy Eban in its midst and described her as "a beautiful person - both inside and out."
Halban thanked Suzy Eban "for giving us the joy and pleasure of publishing your book," adding "it was rare to get a manuscript that doesn't need juggling around." Ellen Hashiloni, Eban's secretary, who helped her to get the book out, said that it had been eight years in the making. Claiming to be embarrassed because she did not have the skills of oratory of her husband, who could speak extemporaneously on any subject for an hour, Suzy Eban proved to be quite an able orator herself. No sooner had she finished speaking than her guests began to line up for book dedications and autographs. What was decidedly different from the usual book launch was that there was no sales pitch. Eban wouldn't think to sell the books to her friends. She gave them as gifts.
n SINCE THEIR arrival in Israel, Egyptian ambassador Yasser Reda and his charming wife Nahla have absolutely won friends and influenced people. Amicable, sophisticated but not the least bit stand-offish, they are making friends not only for themselves but also for their country. Tel Aviv socialite Alice Krieger hosted a party in their honor which was attended by several other diplomats as well as by Israeli public figures, including Housing and Construction Minister Zeev Boim, who arrived with two bodyguards. Nahla Reda broke her leg soon after coming to Israel, but that did not deter her from standing up all evening at a farewell reception that she hosted for Minister Plenipotentiary Tarek Mahmoud El Kouny and his wife Hoda, who performed a sterling job during their time in Israel and often stood in for Reda's predecessor who suffered from ill health. Although she can now walk, Nahla Reda's leg is still in need of therapy, but she doesn't complain and looks forward to the day that she can get back into high heels.
n IN A recent Grapevine column there was mention of the fact that three Israel ambassadors to Poland had been there simultaneously. In fact there were four, but at the time, former ambassadors Mordechai Palzur and Szewach Weiss along with David Peleg, who is winding up his tour of duty, were unaware that Zvi Rav-Ner, the Foreign Ministry's deputy director general for Central and Eastern Europe, was about to be appointed Israel's next ambassador to Poland. Rav-Ner happened to be in Poland at the time and posed for a photograph with his three colleagues. He will take up his new appointment in the summer, and will have no problem adjusting. He was born in Poland and speaks the language fluently.
n A BUS accident on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway prevented many Polish expatriates from the Coastal Plain from attending the opening of the magnificent photo exhibition "Cracow - The World that Was" at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. Whether by accident or design, the exhibition coincided with the anniversary of what is known as the Cyganeria Operation, which resulted in the death of seven German officers and the wounding of many more at the Cyganeria cafe in Cracow, in December, 1942. The operation was carried out by the Jewish Fighting Organization. Cracow was one of the few places in Poland which remained undamaged by the Nazis, and thus anyone who has been to Cracow could easily recognize the places in the photographs. David Reiser, the head of the Cracow expatriates in Israel, was unable to make it in time to light the Hanukka candles, so Szewach Weiss stepped in at a moment's notice and, donning a kippa lent to him by moderator Arie Golan, who told him that it came from Beit Chabad in Warsaw, also led the singing of Maoz Tsur. It was the first time that this exhibition had been shown outside of Poland, though parts of it have been on view at different times in various memorial and cultural locations in Cracow. In the audience were many Polish Jews, Polish and Israeli diplomats, Holocaust survivors, Polish nuns and Israeli paratroopers.
n AND ONE last mention of Poland. Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska and Elzbieta Frister, Director of the Polish Institute, sought to extend Hanukka by a day by hosting a Hanukka party at the ambassador's residence in Kfar Shmaryahu. The problem was that the ambassador came down with the flu and Frister was out of the country. But a party is a party and it wasn't cancelled. The ambassador put in a brief appearance at the beginning of the evening and then retired to her bed. Fortunately, she has a dedicated staff who took care of the guests, but anyone arriving at Jewish mean time was nonplussed by the absence of the ambassador and by the fact that the first thing that they saw from the doorway was a huge, beautifully decorated Christmas tree. The menorah, with the dripping candle wax, was visible on a stand inside and another menorah was part of the adornment on a window sill, and of course there were many plates of doughnuts. The Israelis who had had their fill of doughnuts during the preceding week tended to steer clear, but a group of Polish youth who are visiting Israel on a student exchange scheme dug in with gusto. There was a dreidel on a small table in the entrance hall, and right by the doorway a calendar distributed by Shavei Israel and the Machon Miriam Conversion Institute.
n THE BREATHTAKING beauty of Turkish synagogues seen through the lens of prize winning photographer Izzet Keribar drew a large audience of local Turkish Jews, as well as a contingent of Jews who specially came from Turkey for the opening of "The Synagogues of Turkey - Shrines of Tolerance at Beth Hatefutsoth." The Turkish contingent included Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva and Jewish community president Silvyo Ovadya. Smiling broadly at the sizeable turnout was affable Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan, who was heavily involved in the project which was given even greater prestige by the elegance of the Turkish women. Nissim Guvenis, vice president of the Union of Jews from Turkey in Israel, did a splendid job as a trilingual moderator, while Keribar, who never goes anywhere without a camera, got up on stage not to take a bow, but to photograph some of the dignitaries sitting in the front rows. Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau recalled having been in Turkey's Shalom Synagogue after it had been attacked by terrorists, and said that terrorism was the enemy of all humankind, especially in the Middle East. The musical interlude was in Ladino and the audience enthusiastically joined in the singing. When Sami Sagol, one of the most well known Turkish Jews in Israel asked Avi Pazner, the World Chairman of Keren Hayesod and a member of the Board of Directors of Beth Hatefutsoth, whether he understood what was being sung, Pazner laughed. The reason: Pazner, who came to Israel from Switzerland where he spoke French and German, grew up in a Jerusalem neighborhood in which most of the youngsters spoke Ladino, which he learned before mastering Hebrew. When he met his Argentinian wife-to-be Marti, he disclosed, he courted her in Ladino, because that was their common language.
n THE LONG arm of coincidence, plus the cooperation of the Beit Lessin Theater, enabled Yad B'Yad, which provides a warm home, hot meal and recreational activities for children from low socio-economic backgrounds, to get its message across. As part of its 25th anniversary celebrations, Yad B'Yad, founded by Auschwitz survivor Sheli Hoshen, who until the recent municipal elections was a member of the Tel Aviv City Council, decided to utilize the premiere of Oliver as a fund-raiser. With the many youngsters in the cast playing deprived and orphaned children, it was a perfect vehicle to illustrate what Yad B'Yad is trying to overcome.
n AMONG THE many people who have appealed to outgoing US President George W. Bush to sign a pardon for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard is Israel's Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, who visited Pollard recently - and not for the first time. Metzger has sent a letter to Bush in the hope that on his last day in office, he will do for Pollard what Bill Clinton did for Marc Rich.
n IT'S NOT EVERY day that anyone, especially an Israeli, is honored by the Dalai Lama. In fact, Dr. Galia Sabar of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for International and Regional studies at Tel Aviv University is the first Israeli to be listed among the winners of the Unsung Heroes Awards granted by the Dalai Lama under the auspices of the international organization Wisdom in Action. She has been granted the award in recognition of her ongoing successful activity in academic research and social activity in the fields of Ethiopian Jewry and the African labour immigrant community in Israel. In this capacity, she helped to bring complex issues into public debate on the policies that Israel should adopt. Her dedication exemplifies a unique combination of academic research and social activity. She has authored numerous papers and books on many aspects of African life and is also involved with the Hotline for Foreign Workers. She is one of fifty people from around the world who will receive their awards at a special ceremony in San Francisco in April, 2009.
n USUALLY IT's her husband's name that's in the news, but this time Orly Dankner, wife of biz wiz Nochi Dankner, was the person in the limelight when she hosted some of the leading figures in Israel's business community at a fundraiser in aid of the Lev Hasharon hospital. Aside from the money she collected from friends, Dankner can testify that charity begins at home. Getting husband Nochi to give was a piece of cake. Considering that he gives to so many causes, he could hardly refuse hers.
n WHO SAYS that it's a recession period? At Tel Aviv's Coliseum Club they barely know about it. Hot on the heels of the somewhat expensive New Year's Eve party was another featuring Rita as the star turn. As usual, Coliseum owner Haim Pinchas had the occasion recorded for posterity and had himself snapped with the star. In America, they used to wallpaper their offices with photos of this kind, and some American expats living in Israel who used to move in the fast lane when they lived in the old country, still plaster their living rooms with the evidence.