NATIONAL DAY receptions of countries with diplomatic representation in Israel are usually hosted by the ambassadors of those countries, or - in the absence of an ambassador - by a charge d'affaires or consul general. It's rare for an honorary consul general to take on the responsibility if the country that he or she represents does not have a resident diplomatic mission in Israel. Among the exceptions is Adina Gottesman, the Honorary Consul General for Nepal, whose ambassador to Israel is resident in Cairo. This year, another Honorary Consul General whose ambassador is resident in London, also took up the gauntlet - but for a very special reason. Mary-Clare Adam Murvitz, the Honorary Consul for Papua New Guinea, was celebrating PNG's 30th anniversary of independence. It was an occasion which provided both an opportunity and a platform to foster awareness of a far-flung member of the British Commonwealth whose population lives on the second largest island in the world - the largest being Australia, which happens to be PNG's principal trading partner.
Murvitz's first challenge was to find a suitable venue for the festivities. She didn't fancy the usual hotel scene or the private garden. She wanted something that would truly reflect PNG. She found it in the heart of Tel Aviv in the exotic Dervish store that specializes in ethnic arts and crafts. Murvitz happened to pop in a couple of months ago when Dervish was celebrating its 40th anniversary and asked if she could use the premises. Proprietors Doreen Bahiri and Miriam Mirvish, who originally hail from South Africa, saw no reason to refuse and replaced many of their usual displays with necklaces, masks, wall hangings, paintings and other arts and crafts from PNG. Guests arriving on the scene knew by the sound of the native drums that could be heard for quite some distance that they were on the right track. The three official languages spoken by the 5,000,000 residents of PNG are English, Motu and Pidgin. If she were to greet her guests in Pidgin, said Murvis - who was wearing a traditional PNG necklace - she would say: "Mi hamamas tru long lukim yupela long Dervish nau tasol olgeta, kirap long makim independens bilong mipela."
Approximately 96 percent of the PNG population is Christian; there are also 15,408 Baha'is, 756 Muslims and 46 Jews. Religion plays an important role in people's lives and Christians who are well-versed in both the Old and the New Testaments welcome Israelis with open arms.
Ambassador Michael Ronen, director of the Pacific Desk at the Foreign Ministry, testified that three years ago, while stationed in Australia, he had to go to Port Moresby for the opening of an Israeli exhibition and encountered a true love for Israel. Anthropologist Raz Cherbelis, whom Murvitz described as Israel's leading tour guide to PMG, lived in a village on the Sepik River for more than four years and was initiated into the sacred and secret men's cult. Cherbilis, who knows a great deal about PNG culture, said he always loves to go back because "it is the land of the unexpected." Guests included several ambassadors, such as Australia's Tim George, Austria's Kurt Hengl and Japan's Jun Yokota and Murvitz's equestrian companions. Many friends from the International Women's Club said that she had set a new standard for national day receptions.
PEOPLE WHO are regulars on almost everyone's guest list had somewhat of a problem last Thursday night. In addition to the PNG event, there was a reception for Serbian President Boris Tadic hosted at the Tel Aviv Hilton by Krinka Vidakovic Petrov, the Ambassador for Serbia Montenegro; the annual gala dinner of the Israel America Chamber of Commerce hosted in Kfar Shmaryahu by Chamber president Zalman Shoval - a former Israel Ambassador to the US - and attended by Richard Jones, the US Ambassador to Israel; and, in Kfar Shmaryahu, Polish Defense, Military, Naval and Air Attache Col. Ireneusz Drazyk and his wife hosted a reception marking Polish Armed Forces Day and the Anniversary of National Independence at the residence of Ambassador Jan Piekarski. Tadic, who was among several foreign leaders who had come to Israel for the Prime Minister's conference on exports and international cooperation, was busy promoting investments and joint ventures. Beautifully illustrated Hebrew brochures about Serbia that were on the tables at the reception, were obviously designed to lure the tourist as well as the business traveler. Among the guests at the Serbian reception was Moshe Shahal, a former cabinet minister and one of the elder statesmen of the Labor Party. Earlier in the day, Shahal had been interviewed about the revolution in Labor, and he was still being asked at the Serbian affair.
ANOTHER GUEST at the Serbian reception was Li Qing, chairman of the International Poets' Pen Club, President of Hong Kong Writers Publisher Ltd., and Chairman of Poetry World. Introduced to all and sundry by acclaimed Serbian poet Aleksander Petrov, who just happens to be the husband of the ambassador, Li Qing is a great friend of Israel's and the Jews and wrote "Stones," a Holocaust poem that has received considerable global attention and has been translated into nine languages. "It is the best Holocaust poem ever written," declared Petrov.
IT WAS a Freudian slip that was waiting to happen. Given the chronological proximity between the election of Amir Peretz to the Labor leadership and the 10th anniversary of the assassination by Yigal Amir of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, someone was bound to confuse the two. Unfortunately, that someone was a person who, as his military aide, was very close to Rabin, and who, after Rabin's death, was appointed head of the Mossad. Worse still, the mistake was heard by tens of thousands of people. Now a Labor MK, Danny Yatom was interviewed by Estee Perez on Israel Radio's lunchtime news and current affairs program on Monday. Asked to speak about Rabin's killer, Yatom described him as maniacal and despicable, but erroneously applied those adjectives to Amir Peretz instead of Yigal Amir. Cut short and corrected by Perez, a profoundly embarrassed Yatom apologized and reiterated the apology again and again. It was a mistake that will take him a long time to live down.
PUBLIC RELATIONS guru Rani Rahav and his wife, Hila, had an extraordinary extended family relationship with Yitzhak and Lea Rabin. After Yitzhak Rabin's assassination the relationship with Lea Rabin grew stronger and more protective.
While the nation and the Jewish world at large have over the past week focused on the 10th anniversary of the assassination, the Rahavs did not forget to note that it is also the fifth anniversary of the death of Lea Rabin, and that the anniversary more or less coincides with the realization of her dream to build the impressive Rabin Study Center that was inaugurated this week. Last Friday, the Rahavs, who are famous for the Friday brunches in their Savyon home, invited people who had been close to the Rabins to remember them in a more intimate setting than at the official public memorials. At the entrance to the house was a lot of Rabin memorabilia, including candid family-style photos, such as the Rabins flanking the bride and groom at Hila and Rani's wedding, or Rani hugging Lea in her hospital bed when she was in the final stages of her illness. There were also huge portraits of Lea Rabin and memorial books with photographic documentation of the life of Yitzhak Rabin. The sound of Rabin's favorite songs emanated from strategically placed speakers in the garden, where scores of people linked to the Rabins congregated and shared reminiscences. Among them were Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and his wife, Hayouta, Tel Aviv University President Itamar Rabinovich - who was Israel's chief negotiator with Syria from 1992-1995 and Israel's ambassador to the US from 1993-1996, Dan Hotels chairman Michael Federmann, attorney Yigal Alon, media and real estate magnate Ofer Nimrodi, Danny Yatom and Matan Vilna'i, who had a long military history with Rabin, former ministers and MKs, such as Gad Yaacobi, Micha Harish, Ra'anan Cohen, Masha Lubelski, Anat Maor, Rafi Edri and many others. In a passionate address to both Rabins, but especially to Lea, Rani Rahav related how her daughter, Dalia, who was present along with her brother, Yuval, and other members of the Rabin family, had worked tirelessly to bring Lea's dream to fruition. He also noted several individuals who had staunchly categorized themselves as Rabin's people, yet had not contributed in any way to the Rabin Center, whereas philanthropist Shari Arison, through the Arison Foundation, had been a most generous benefactor. Although Rahav did not spell it out, Arison not only contributed many millions of dollars to the building, but also provided an additional $5 million needed to ensure the success of the gala opening. Noting that "there are people who never die. They continue to be in our midst - we can't see them, but we can feel them," Dalia Rabin recalled the day when her mother entered the hospital for the last time. Speaking directly to her mother, she reminded her that it was she, Lea, who had laid the foundations for the Rabin Center, leaving Dalia to complete the dream. Dalia also had a special word for Rani Rahav who, she said, was "a rare, loyal and devoted friend on whom my mother always relied. She loved you."
ALSO AMONG the guests at the Rahav brunch was author, poet, Israel Radio personality and peace activist Raya Harnik, who came to wider public attention when her son, Goni, a Reconnaissance Unit commander, fell in the battle for the Beaufort during the war in Lebanon. Berlin-born Harnik wrote a children's book about growing up in the 1930s in Tel Aviv where all the yekkes [German Jews] became each other's extended families and where older children in one family looked after younger children in another after school till parents came home from work. Her parents and Lea Rabin's parents were very friendly and the children were in and out of each other's houses - even though Lea and her older sister were several years older than Raya. This extended family relationship continued into the next generation, so that when Dalia Rabin was an infant, Harnik was her babysitter. When Lea Rabin was living in Jerusalem in the Prime Minister's residence, she had a function to which Harnik was invited. The gift she brought was her book, which contained the names of people who were also part of Lea's youth. Rabin became very nostalgic and decided that she would host a launch for the book and invite all the people mentioned. "But they're all dead," said Harnik. To which Rabin replied: "So we'll invite their children." She then decided to include anyone else they could remember from their youth and told Harnik to give her list to her secretary. As the date for the launch approached, Harnik asked the secretary how many people had been invited.
"About 70," was the reply.
Harnik was astounded.
"How can Lea expect 70 people in their mid-sixties to mid-seventies to come to Jerusalem for the launch of a children's book?" she asked.
The secretary laughed. "You'd be surprised how few refusals there are when the invitation is to the prime minister's residence."
THOUGH PRIMARILY in Israel to participate in the Saban Forum and the Rabin memorial events, former US president Bill Clinton also acceded to the request of his good friend, Eddie Trump, a Florida-based real estate tycoon who is chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Friends of Beit Issie Shapiro. As it happens, Trump was the nephew of the late Issie Shapiro and is a cousin to Shapiro's daughter, Naomi Stuchiner, who is the BIS executive director and who has been the guardian and chief implementer of her father's vision to provide people with special needs the tools and the treatment that will help them rise above their disabilities. When BIS was planning its 25th anniversary, it wanted to do something sufficiently exceptional to enable more funds than usual to be raised for BIS programs. Stuchiner asked Trump if he could bring Clinton to the table - and he obliged. It wasn't Clinton alone who made the occasion outstanding. Stuchiner's New York-based son, Giora, conceived and produced the sophisticated silver-and-white d cor that added new elegance to Jerusalem's Teddy Hall. Long rectangular tables with seating for 14 had a mirrored runner stretched across the center, with tall, silver, crystal-adorned candelabras and goblets filled with white roses. The burning oil wicks in the candelabras were reflected in the mirrored surfaces.
Smaller tables were adorned with centerpieces comprising huge glass chalices filled with white flowers and surrounded by small glass bowls containing large round candles. The abundance of candlelight added to the special atmosphere, as did the colonial style chairs that were painted in either silver or white. The long, high buffet tables were all white, and there were white couches in the lobby outside the banquet room. There were some 400 guests at the $1000 per plate dinner. Those who had paid $25,000 and more got to meet Clinton at a private reception held in an annex adjacent to the main reception area. Several well-known entertainers who were among the guests and who usually get carte blanche to almost anything, were politely turned away when they tried to crash the private reception. Among them were singer Zvika Pik and his companion, Shira Manor. Once the dinner got underway, Trump, in addition to speaking of his uncle's dream and praising the splendid work done by Stuchiner and her staff, noted that Clinton's presence at the event stood as "a beacon of light for children in need everywhere."
Trump, who has traveled widely with Clinton in the latter's quest to seek solutions to poverty, to effect religious reconciliation, to promote positive relations between governments and to bring comfort to those suffering the devastating effects of climatic changes, said that it was not just in his global achievements that Clinton was remarkable, "but in his small acts of kindness."
He described how Clinton had reached out in New Orleans to people who had lost everything. As he mounted the stage, the charismatic Clinton received a sustained standing ovation. Acknowledging Trump's introduction and their close friendship, Clinton quipped: "I spend a lot of time trying to get him to finance the good I do for other people."
He had come to the BIS dinner, he said, not only because of his affection for Trump, but because he had spent his whole life trying to support the independence, empowerment and integrity of people with disabilities. When he was governor of Arkansas, he had two sightless people on his staff - a factor that had a great impact throughout the state. Everyone has the responsibility for treating all human beings with disabilities with dignity and enabling them to produce according to their capacities, said Clinton. Challenging his audience Clinton asked: "Have you done everything you can to give people with problems the opportunity to live their lives in dignity?"
Continuing in this vein, he asked how often anyone actually looks at and sees the people who perform services for them. More important: "If you see someone in a wheelchair, do you see the chair and turn away, or do you see the eyes of the person sitting in the chair? The biggest disabilities we have to remove from their paths are those in our own minds and hearts."
CHILD HOLOCAUST survivor Rena Quint, who inter alia is a volunteer guide at Yad Vashem, is sought out by many organizations, groups and individuals - especially those from English-speaking countries. Quint, who grew up in America and who spent several years of her life as a teacher, has a way of imparting the Holocaust saga and her own story that impacts strongly on those who hear her. The president of the Jossi Berger Holocaust Study Center at Emunah College in Jerusalem, Quint often transfers tips that she receives to the Center. Affiliated with numerous educational and social welfare organizations, she sometimes channels her tips in other directions but never keeps them to herself. A small group she recently took around Yad Vashem was sufficiently impressed to give her a tip of $1,000 with the codicil that she pass it on to any charity of her choice.
Quint does not always meet her groups at Yad Vashem. Sometimes she invites them first to come to her home to sit around and talk in a more intimate atmosphere. She often does this with groups from Hadassah, which in the past expressed their esteem by sending her enormous bouquets of flowers. Appreciative though she was, she asked them to desist because her husband, Rabbi Emanuel Quint , is allergic to flowers. She does what she does, she told them, because she believes that it is incumbent upon all Holocaust survivors to transfer to the next generation the knowledge of what they experienced and what they witnessed. This week, Quint welcomed a Hadassah National Young Leadership group to her home. The group had just come from a 48-hour visit to Poland that included an inspection of Auschwitz. When Quint asked how they were affected, one of the young leaders said that it created an instant bond between 22 women who had previously been strangers to each other. At the close of the meeting, National Young Leadership chair Ellen Steinberg presented Quint with life membership in Hadassah, to which Quint responded: "This is better than flowers."
Better still was the perk that goes with life membership. Quint had been asking for some time to receive Hadassah Magazine. For whatever bureaucratic reason, it had not arrived. However life membership in the organization guarantees a free, permanent subscription. Meanwhile they brought her some back copies.