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GUESTS ATTENDING the Queen's birthday reception hosted by British Ambassador Tom Phillips were somewhat surprised to hear Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni speaking in favorable terms of the period of the British Mandate. But then it all became clear. Livni explained that her parents had met while robbing a British train, but had served time in different prisons.
Were it not for the Mandate, she might never have been born, she said, raising a laugh. (Livni did not elaborate, but Eitan and Sarah Livni were both pre-state Irgun activists - her father was an operations chief and her mother, who died recently, aged 85, was involved in several major operations. "I was disguised as a pregnant woman and robbed a train carrying Â£35,000," Sarah said in an interview shortly before she died.)
Livni then went into more serious mode, stating that both Israel and Britain face new challenges ahead.
Although Israel is in the front line, she said, "We all share the same need to meet these challenges."
Having Britain as a friend, she added, "gives us strength to move forward. We are trying to transform a vision of peace into something more complete."
In past years, the residence of the British Ambassador in Ramat Gan has always taken on a festive appearance for the Queen's 82nd birthday, but never more than on this occasion.
Red, white and blue drapes were suspended on either side of the doorway from the house to the patio. A red carpet covered the stairs from the patio to the garden.
Stands bearing large arrangements of red roses flanked the doorway, and another arrangement of red roses was placed in the center of the staircase. On the patio itself was a large flag arrangement of two Union Jacks on either side of Israel's national flag.
Inside the house was a photographic exhibition showing relations between Israel and the United Kingdom in different fields, including a photograph of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Outside in the garden was a huge video screen with multi-faceted scenes of the UK that evoked nostalgia among the many British expats gathered on the lawn - and a desire to visit Britain among some of the non-Brits.
Foodwise, there were the traditional British cheeses, servings of fried chips in newspaper, Scotish salmon and a wide selection of Strauss ice creams.
The jazz band that had been hired to provide background music seemed to be less familiar with British compositions than American, a fact that did not go unnoticed among some of the British expats.
Phillips started and ended his address in Hebrew, but found it easier for the most part to express himself in English.
Noting that the Queen's birthday party this year coincided with the diamond jubilee of the State of Israel, he said that the Queen had come to the throne soon after the creation of the state.
He also referred to Israel as one of the great adventures of history, observing that Israel has sustained itself as a democracy despite living in a conflict-ridden area. "No diplomat here thinks he's living in just another country," he said.
Remarking on the great ideas and ideals that characterize Israel, Phillips said that his country did not underestimate the difficulties and challenges of Israel pursuing peace with its neighbors.
This was the second of two celebrations honoring the Queen that Phillips hosted this year. The first was in Eilat in March, and it was the second time that the Queen's birthday had been celebrated in Eilat. The first was in 2002, the year in which the Queen celebrated her jubilee as monarch.
With some 10,000 British tourists visiting Eilat each year, and considerable British investment in Eilat's tourist industry, it was only fitting to hold a celebration there as well.
Former British honorary consul in Eilat, Faye Morris, makes a point of traveling north each year for the Queen's birthday bash. And current honorary consul Dafna Budden also makes the trip. Some guests at the reception in the residence came especially from London. Among them were Douglas Brown, a journalist with Health Investor Ltd., which was one of the sponsors of the event, and Doron Doeh, a managing partner in the international law firm of Denton Wilde Sapte, which was also a sponsor.
Doeh, who was born in New York on the propitious date of May 14, 1948, is the son of a former Hagana officer who headed operations in Haifa, and among various overseas missions, went to the US. Doeh celebrated his Bar Mitzva on Mt. Herzl, and has been living in London for some 30 years. Curiously, he has no trace of an American accent.
Among the other guests were three representatives of the "Yesha" setters' council - chairman Danny Dayan, Shaul Goldstein and Yisrael Medad - who had been invited for the first time.
When Phillips was asked by this columnist whether the invitation signified a change of policy on the part of his government, his reply was: "We've always talked to them."
"Yes, but there's a difference between talking to them and inviting them."
Phillips smiled, retorting: "They know where we stand."
FOR BRITISH deputy head of mission and consul general Janet Rogan, this was her last Queen's Birthday celebration in Israel.
Rogan will be leaving Israel in July to take up her appointment as director of the British section in the Shanghai Expo 2010, considered the technological and cultural Olympics, under the theme, "Better City, Better Life."
For Rogan, this represents the closing of a circle. As first secretary at the British Embassy in Hong Kong, Rogan headed the negotiations for the handover to China.
"I'll have to start learning Chinese again," she said. The site of the British stand at the Shanghai Expo, according to Rogan, is the size of a football field, which is a lot of space in which to pitch British culture and technology.
ALTHOUGH LIVNI had no trouble in making herself heard in Ramat Gan, she encountered quite a few problems the previous evening in Tel Aviv, when she represented the government and people of Israel at the Russian National Day reception hosted by Russian Ambassador Piotr Stegny at the Tel Aviv Hilton.
The microphone was faulty and the audience so noisy that even though Livni does not have a soft voice, she had great difficulty in making herself heard. Livni spoke in Hebrew and Stegny in Russian, but the crowd was so busy talking that both the ambassador and the minister were virtually drowned out.
The Russians usually have one of the largest turnouts for their national day receptions, and as always, the event is made more colorful by the number of veterans who served in the Red Army with medals spread over most of their upper torsos. Likud chairman and opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu turned up towards the end of the evening and also gave a speech - but the noise level was still such that his oratory went to waste.
THE FASHION show which couture designer Mira Zwillinger showed at Keter headquarters in Herzliya Pituah, with the proceeds to the Israeli branch of Lions of Judah, had a surprise element in the grand finale.
The finely honed models had already appeared in cocktail and wedding outfits in the palest shades of ivory, pink, silver grey, lilac and sand, plus white with black as a dramatic contrast in the cocktail wear - and there was still one bridal gown to show.
Until that moment, the person chosen to wear it had not yet appeared, and to be honest, she was a little too full in the figure to model most of the other outfits. However, her presence did provide a little excitement.
Actress Noa Tishby, currently based in Los Angeles and doing well, had come to get married to Australian television star Andrew G. The wedding is set for this week, and it's not certain that the gown in which Tishby, carrying a bouquet and doubled up with laughter, paraded along the catwalk is the one that she will actually wear under the bridal canopy in Caesarea. But it certainly made the 400 or so people gathered on the lawn sit up and take notice, even though some of the other bridal gowns were more intriguing.
Lions of Judah members turned out in force wearing their gold lion pins as pendants or brooches. While most guests paid NIS 300 for the show, the refreshments and the opportunity to relax by the sea in an environment of casual luxury, some 80 dedicated Lions paid NIS 750 and forked out another NIS 50 to NIS 150 for a raffle ticket.
The Lions of Judah support projects for women and girls who live in development towns and in danger zones such as Sderot or whose socio-economic circumstances impede them from realizing their potential.
Proceeds on this occasion went towards building a better future for Sderot Youth. Tova Sagol, whose family owns Keter, provided the premises for the show, and as a Lion, was obviously pleased to be in the position to do so.
Zwillinger is also a Lion, and unlike the shoemaker whose children go barefoot, was a walking advertisement for her own talent.
The beautiful, permanently sun-tanned Evelyn Douek, who has hardly any lines in her face, was asked the secret for her near flawless complexion, and replied simply: "It's my mother. It's in the genes."
Doris Weiser-Small, who was one of the founders of the Israel branch of Lions of Judah, and is a former head of the organization, was thrilled not only with the turnout, but with the teamwork of the organizers who worked in perfect harmony.
The crowd itself provided a fashion feast for the eyes with an incredible variety of eclectic apparel and accessories. Among those attending were Dale Ophir, Debra Silver, Nurit Jaglom, Lea Peretz, Doreen Gaynsford, Elianne Recanati, Valerie Maxwell and Reena Pushkarna.
WHEN VETERAN fashion writer and former model Nurit Bat Yaar made her way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to give a talk and slide presentation on 60 years of Israeli fashion, she planned to speak about several people who had an influence on Israeli fashion.
Among these would be beauty queen Ofira Erez, Miss Israel 1956, whose black-and-red outfits with gold-thread Yemenite embroideries set a trend both in Israel and abroad, and designer Miri Shafir, whose creations are coming back into vogue.
As it happens, both women married Yitzhak Navon, who was Israel's fifth president. Ofira Erez died tragically from cancer in 1993 at the age of 57. Approximately five years later, Navon met Miri Shafir, and there was an instant attraction which culminated in marriage a couple of months back.
Shafir divides her time between her home in Tel Aviv and Navon's home in Jerusalem. Bat Yaar did not expect to see her in the audience at Beit Avi Hai, and Shafir did not expect to see two of her designs in Bat Yaar's presentation, so it was a pleasant surprise all round.
Bat Yaar is completing a coffee table book called Fashion from the Land of Eve - Israel's Art to Wear, which is scheduled for publication before Israel's 60th anniversary year comes to a close.
ISRAEL'S MOST definitive impression of citizens of the Philippines is derived from the huge number of Filipinos working here, mostly as caregivers.
Some of these people, though engaged in menial tasks, hold second and third university degrees, are extremely knowledgeable and held important jobs back home.
But they can't earn in the Philippines what they earn in Israel. So they sacrifice careers and proximity to family so that they can make enough money to buy a house and give their children the best possible education.
This consideration for others, a Filipino characteristic, was evident at the recent Independence Day reception hosted by Philippines Ambassador Petronila P. Garcia, who stood in a reception line with the most senior members of her embassy, but organized for other staff members to welcome guests as they arrived in the banquet hall of the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv to celebrate the 110th Independence Day of the Philippines.
One after another they moved forward to greet each person with a smile and a firm handshake. Garcia's speech was very short, referring to the long relationship between Israel and the Philippines and the even longer relationship between the Philippines and the Jewish people.
The first Jews came to the Philippines in Spanish-sailing vessels at the end of the 16th century. Garcia left it to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to deliver her country's message. Rather than sit in front of a camera and just talk, Macapagal-Arroyo took viewers on a "walk" through the presidential palace as she talked about the Philippines as Asia's first republic, which last year enjoyed its strongest economic year ever thanks to surging investments.
She also talked about strengthening democracy, the enterprising character of the Filipinos and the solidarity, sacrifice and singular purpose of the nation's ancestors.
Ruth Kahanoff, deputy director general for Asia and the Pacific at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, declared that Israel would never forget the support of the Philippines in the UN 1947 resolution for partition. Nor would Israel forget that on the eve of World War II, when the doors of most countries were closed to Jews, the president of the Philippines gave permission for an intake of 10,000 Jews.
Unfortunately, only 1,200 succeeded in getting to the Philippines in time.
Vered Swid, who is the prime minister's adviser on social affairs, was very pleased to hear Kahanoff's acknowledgement of the Philippines offering a haven to Jews fleeing the policies of the Third Reich.
She had been trying to help the late Antonio Modena, during his term as Philippines ambassador to Israel, get official recognition for what the Filipinos had done for Jews during the war, but he had died without realizing that ambition.
Garcia and Kahanoff toasted each other's presidents with the traditional Filipino toast of Mabuhay, which according to Garcia, means the same as Le'haim.
SOME OF the people who might otherwise have accepted the invitation to the Philippines Independence Day celebration or the invitation of Japanese Ambassador Yoshinori Katori to attend the 54th anniversary of the establishment of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces, or both, had to decline in favor of the wedding of Gila Cotler, daughter of international human rights lawyer and former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler and his wife, Ariela, to Elad Rosenfeld of Nataf.
Several Montreal expatriates, plus close friends who flew in from Montreal - some of them also to attend this week's United Israel Appeal World Conference in Jerusalem - made their way to the atmospheric Petah Tikva banquet facility, Ha'be'er Shel Saba.
There were also several people from Israel's legal fraternity. When the bride's sister, Tanya, gets married in Montreal in June next year, the air traffic will be in the other direction, and of course the number of Canadian guests will outnumber the Israeli guests compared to the ratio this time around.
SINCE ITS inception in 1997, some very distinguished people have been the recipients of the prestigious annual Ingeborg-Rennert Guardian of Zion award. Up until this year, it was given with two exceptions to people who live in the United States.
One of the exceptions was British historian and writer Sir Martin Gilbert and the other was filmmaker and writer Arthur Cohn, who lives in Switzerland, although he spends a lot of time in Israel and the US.
This year, for the first time, the award was given to three Israelis, who are Guardians of Zion not only in name but also in deed, and with whose work Ingeborg and Rennert identify not only in a philanthropic manner but with hands-on zeal and wonder.
Mordechai (Suli) Eliav is the founder and director of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, and knows every inch of the Western Wall tunnels and every stone in the wall.
His devotion to all things related to the Western Wall is contagious, so much so that many visitors whose sense of Jewish identity was close to zero became inspired when he was their guide.
The soft-spoken David (David'le) Be'eri, the son of a Holocaust survivor, dreamed of restoring Jewish life to the City of David, and founded the Elad Ir David Foundation of which Rabbi Yehuda Maly is the executive vice president.
At the presentation ceremony at Jerusalem's King David Hotel, Be'eri (who is also engaged in archaeology) drew an awesome parallel between his father's falling into a pit during the death march from Auschwitz and his own accidental fall into a pit that had been covered by layers of civilization, and had been the site of the Jewish battle against the Romans.
NOT ONLY is the State of Israel celebrating its 60th anniversary, but several MKs are also celebrating their 60th birthdays this year, though none was born exactly on the same date as the state.
Avishay Braverman celebrated his 60th birthday in January. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On was 60 on June 2. Yossi Beilin, who turned 60 last Thursday, celebrated with a lot of past and present political friends and colleagues, including his mentor Shimon Peres, his good friend Avraham Burg, and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik.
Yaacov Litzman will be 60 in September, and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit will mark his milestone on October 10. Although it is known that Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz was born in 1948 as well, the precise date remains classified.
MEMBERS OF the International Women's Club will have several reunions this summer with visits by former members Sheila Kurtzer from the US, Bella Russ from Guatemala and Helena Jarc from Slovenia.
Kurtzer and Russ each have relatives living in Israel, and Kurtzer has visited several times since her husband, former US ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, completed his tour of duty three years ago.
In fact, they've both been here quite often, and this time it will be for a longer stretch because Daniel Kurtzer is in Israel to promote his new book, Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East, on which he will be delivering a lecture at Tel Aviv University on June 25.
But he will be back for even longer next year, as he will be teaching at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya in the next academic year (2008-2009). Kurtzer has signed on to lecture on US Foreign Policy in the Middle East as part of the Lauder School of Government's M.A. program in Government. He will also take part in an array of events held by the school.
WHILE CERTAIN rabbis make life difficult for would-be converts, Jews in general are quick to claim anyone with two drops of Jewish blood as their own. Thus there will be a double blessing next week in the two drops category when French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives in Israel with his wife, Carla Bruni.
Sarkozy's great-great-grandfather on his mother's side was Aaron Mallah, founder of the Rabbinical School of Thassaloniki. Bruni's paternal grandfather was Jewish, and Sarkozy's former wife, Cecilia MarÃa Sara Isabel Ciganer-AlbÃ©niz, is believed to be of Jewish background on her father's side.